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Published on May 28, 2020

7 Keys to Effective Listening

7 Keys to Effective Listening

You hear all the time how important effective communication is. It’s critically important in your career and the same holds true for marriage or any long term partnership.

If you’ve read any of my other articles on this website, you’ll know I am a huge proponent of strong communication skills. I have seen over and over again how clear and effective communication has helped people in many phases of their lives.

Here is something that so many of us forget: listening is half of all communication.

It’s great to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly, but it’s just as important to have effective listening skills.

Let’s take a look at how important effective listening is and along the way, I’ll share with you 7 keys to effective listening. Read on to learn how to become a powerful listener.

Why Listening Skills Are Important

Unfortunately, many of us can only listen just long enough to form our own responses to what is being said, then we stop listening.

Why is that? Because we have all the information we need to share our own opinion. Needless to say, this isn’t effective listening, not by a long shot. Listening skills are vital in communication.

Deep down one of our greatest pleasures is feeling understood by another person. We can’t feel truly understood by another person unless we feel they are really listening to us. But once we feel that they are, it allows us to open up and share what we want to.

We can do this because the sense of someone seriously listening to us makes us trust the other person. I don’t have to tell you how much trust can help strengthen a relationship – it’s critically important. When you combine the listening with a nice dose of empathy, it creates an even stronger bond.

Being an effective listener also benefits the listener. When we take the time to truly understand the other person, it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what is being said and where the other person is coming from.

We’ve already discussed how the person speaking will feel better understood and want to trust us. This in and of itself helps us gain an ally and better partner, whether it’s in a personal or a business relationship.

But there’s even more upside to being a great listener. We learn more and open up our horizons.

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It’s too easy to get trapped inside our little world and look at things through our own lens of the world. But when we listen to another person, we can learn something new and sometimes, see the world through a new set of eyes. How cool is that?

What Makes a Good Listener?

Now that we know why listening skills are so important, let’s take a look at what makes a good listener.

We all know how easy it is to pay partial attention to what someone is saying. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s the simple ongoing chatter inside our heads. Other times we are distracted thinking about another topic entirely. And sometimes we feel we’ve heard enough from the speaker to form our own response, so we are just waiting for them to take a break so we can get our 2 cents in. This isn’t being a very good listener.

Besides showing some of the keys to effective listening below, good listeners, in general, tend to be empathetic and listen with an open mind. They don’t allow their preformed opinions to color what they are hearing.

Good listeners are usually emotionally intelligent, so they are not only aware of their feelings but also perceptive of how others feel. They usually do a good job of asking follow-up questions – another good sign that they are listening.

They ask these questions as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of others. A good listener is okay with being uncomfortable. They can allow silence to go on while the other person thinks about what they are going to say and don’t get defensive. These are some of the traits of a good listener.

What Is Effective Listening?

Effective listening skills allow us to actively understand the information provided by the person speaking. Effective listening also has to do with showing a genuine interest in the topic being discussed.

Many times, it also includes providing the speaker with input and feedback along the way, as well as asking thought-provoking, insightful questions to gain a full understanding of the subject. Asking these incisive questions also shows the speaker that the listener truly understands what is being said and can empathize with the speaker.

Sounds like powerful stuff right? Read on for some of the benefits of effective listening.

What Are the Benefits of Effective Listening?

Effective listening will reward all parties involved in many ways, here are a few.

Effective Listening Builds Trust

This is probably the most important benefit of effective listening.

Remember, when someone feels like they are truly being listened to and understood, it’s only natural for them to begin to develop trust for the person listening. Or if the relationship already has a basis of trust, it only serves to strengthen it.

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Productivity Goes Up

This is key in the workplace. Just think about how much more productive you could be in your job if there was all-around clear communication. That alone would help it shoot through the roof!

Add in working with a group of folks who are effectively listening and understanding each other and you’ve got a recipe for super productivity.

Better Relationships

It almost goes without saying that if you are communicating with effective listeners regularly, it will forge stronger relationships. Again, the ability to feel like you are being truly heard and understood creates tighter and more meaningful relationships.

Greater Problem Solving

Remember that old saying two heads are better than one? What that means is that most of the time, 2 people can solve a problem better than one person on their own.

The logic is simple: two people can look at the same problem or challenge from different angles, different sets of eyes, and different experiences from which to draw on. When people are listening and understanding each other, the ability to solve problems is greatly enhanced.

Now let’s get to the really good part – 7 keys to effective listening.

7 Keys to Effective Listening

1. Be Attentive and Relaxed

Probably the most important part of effective listening is being attentive. Be present and at the moment with the person you are listening to.

Follow along with the words and thoughts they are sharing to build the full picture. Do your best to block out distractions, whether that’s street noise or your internal thoughts.

You don’t want to be attentive to the point of staring unblinkingly and not moving at the person while they are speaking. That can get unnerving. You want to temper your attentiveness with being relaxed as well. This will help the other person feel more at ease.

And speaking of staring unblinkingly at the other person. . .

2. Maintain Eye Contact and Face the Other Person

You’ll want to keep regular eye contact with the person speaking and have your body facing towards them.

Again, the regular eye contact doesn’t mean you are staring directly at them without batting an eyelid for minutes on end. It means, in general, you are keeping your eyes focused on them and their eyes.

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You don’t want your eyes darting to your phone or your computer screen. That takes away your attention.

You’ll also want to have your body facing the other person most of the time. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating that you are paying attention to and listening to them.

3. Listen and Paint a Picture

While you are listening attentively, allow your mind to paint a mental picture of what is being said. This could be a literal picture in your mind or it may be more abstract involving concepts and ideas.

When you combine listening attentively with your mind creating a mental picture, it will help you gain greater clarity around what is being said, as well as build a more lasting impression in your mind.

4. Do Not Interrupt

One of the surest ways to create choppy communication is by interrupting.

Think about when you’ve been in a verbal fight with someone and you both keep interrupting each other to get your point across. Nobody ever gets to fully vocalize about what is upsetting them.

The same concept holds true here. Don’t interrupt the other person while they are talking. It conveys the message that you don’t care what they are saying and that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.

Speaking of having your turn to talk. . .

5. Ask Questions to Clarify and Understand

When the person you are talking to stops talking and indicates you can take a turn, you want to use your words to good effect. The goal here is to ask clarifying questions that will help you understand fully what the other person is saying.

Again, wait until the other person stops talking before asking your questions. Do not interrupt them to inject your point of view or ask off-topic questions. Asking tangential type questions can easily take the conversation down a completely different path.

We see this happen all the time during everyday conversations. Someone is telling us about an adventure they went on and mentions a restaurant they went to. Someone else then asks a question about that restaurant and BOOM, the conversation turns to a discussion of restaurants.

Don’t be that person.

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6. Keep an Open Mind

Another of the 7 keys to effective listening is to keep an open mind. It’s important to listen with an impartial mind and not mentally judge the person speaking to you.

To truly hear someone and to give them a chance to fully share what they are talking about, you must keep an open mind. If they say something that gives you pause or raises some concerns, keep it to yourself for the time being.

Now is not the time to be forming judgments or making assumptions based on what is being said. Keep your mind open to allow them to speak freely and for you to listen fully.

7. Try to Feel What the Other Person is Feeling

Now we get to the part where you are working to empathize with the speaker. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see the situation from their vantage point.

To get a good depth of understanding, you’ll need to do your best to put yourself in as close to a mindset as the other person is. This isn’t easy, and it does take work.

If you’ve gotten to the point where you are feeling happy when they seem to be happy or sad when they are, you’ve done a great job of really understanding what they are telling you to the point of feeling similar.

Conclusion

As a reminder, listening is half of all communication.

Being a good listener takes practice and some work, but it’s well worth it. You’ll gain greater clarity with your interactions with other people you interact with. This benefits both your professional and personal life.

Imagine having clear communication with the people in all areas of your life. Sounds great, right?

Be sure to use these 7 keys to effective listening to greatly improve your communication and relationships with others.

More Effective Listening Tips

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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