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7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

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7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

Good listening skills are important in just about any area of life. Looking at your own life, can you identify why you want to be a better listener?

Is it to get closer to a loved one? Do you want to begin to understand where your boss is coming from? Do you want to make a good impression at work or among a new group of friends?

Whatever the reason, if you follow these 6 simple steps, you will be on your way to being an expert listener that people open up to with confidence.

1. Recognize What Kind of Listener You Are

Self-awareness is essential as you’re developing good listening skills. You have to know where you are before you can truly change your behavior[1]. Pay attention to the cues other people are giving you as to what kind of listener you are right now. Do any of these ring true?

The Space out

The space out listener can’t maintain focus on the speaker. They get distracted easily and are not concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

The Interrupter

This person can’t help themselves and butts in while the speaker is talking to share something similar that happened to them recently or share another anecdote they think is related.

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The Fixer

This is the person who listens to solve your problem and give unsolicited advice. While their intentions may be helpful, they miss the nuance that the speaker is perfectly capable of handling the situation; they just might need to talk it through.

The Faker

Similar to the space out listener, the faker takes it the extra mile by uttering responses like “Mm-hmm,” “Yep,” “Oh, really?” “Wow, interesting.” They are distracted, on their phone, listening to music, or watching YouTube videos and don’t have a clue as to what you’re saying.

We have all been in conversations with bad listeners. Let’s prevent ourselves from doing that with others through thoughtful and intentional practice of active listening[2].

2. Decide to Be a Better Listener

This is a choice you are actively making in order to improve your relationships at work or at home, so commit to practicing some good listening skills. Here are some things active listeners do on a regular basis:

Listen Without Judgment

They listen to learn and to understand what the other person is saying while setting aside assumptions and experiences they have that might be similar.

Communicate Through Non-Verbal Cues

These cues can include eye contact, nodding, smiling, facing the speaker, and putting their phone away and out of sight. These are also known as body language cues and let the speaker know you are connecting with what they are saying.

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3. Make a Plan

Before speaking with someone, plan out your actions in your head. Decide what you will and won’t do during the conversation to practice good listening skills. For example:

  • I will silence and put away my phone.
  • I will adjust my chair so I am facing the person and making eye contact.
  • I will listen with curiosity and without judgment.
  • I will reflect back what they are saying and ask clarifying questions to help me understand their message.
  • I won’t interrupt.
  • I won’t get distracted by my phone or other people.
  • I won’t listen to solve or fix.

4. Change the Channel

Close your eyes and imagine flipping a switch from on to off. Now, do it again but imagine that Channel 1 is “me-focused” and Channel 2 is “empathy focused.”

When you flip to Channel 2 before a conversation, you automatically prepare by putting away your phone, facing the speaker, suspending judgement, and getting curious about what you are going to learn from this other person.

5. Reflect Back What You Hear

Reflecting back what you hear means summarizing or paraphrasing what they are saying just so they know you hear them. This helps them feel understood and eliminates the possibility of moving forward with incorrect information.

For example, if your boss is describing a project they want done next week, you can reflect the information back with a simple sentence like, “Ok, I understand that you want Project X done by Wednesday at noon, correct?”

6. Listen to Understand, Not to Fix

Listen more than you speak, and be aware of what your brain is doing while the other person is talking. Are you making assumptions? Are you thinking of what advice you can give to make the person feel better and solve his/her situation?

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Remind yourself to listen without judgement and to only offer advice if asked. Good listening skills involve listening to the story the way they are telling it and showing, through non-verbal cues and clarifying questions, that you are hearing and understanding them.

7. Prepare, Practice, Reflect

This is a short routine you can do to improve good listening skills.

Step 1: Prepare Yourself

Similar to Pavlov’s dog experiment from the 1900’s[3], we are going to set up a conditioned response for ourselves every time someone asks “Can I talk with you about something?” Every time someone invites you in to a conversation, you will immediately do these three actions:

  1. Say yes to the invitation.
  2. Silence your phone and put it in a drawer, a purse, or in another room.
  3. Face the speaker and make friendly eye contact.

Now that you are physically set up to listen, let’s discover how you will listen.

Step 2: Practice Active Listening Techniques

Be curious about what you will learn from this person. Suspend judgement and put your advice channel on mute. Listen to understand, not to fix or advise. Reflect back what you hear or ask clarifying questions.

These simple techniques will work wonders for any conversation you enter.

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Step 3: Reflect on How You Did as a Listener

Were you truly present in that moment for the other person, or was your mind wandering? Was it challenging to maintain focus on the speaker? If the answer is yes, this is totally normal and expected because you are building a new skill and re-training your brain to execute this new skill on command. With consistent practice and focus on building this skill, it will soon become a habit.

Final Thoughts

Being a better listener starts with you. You must intentionally prepare your mind for good listening skills because your brain is much too busy with managing your life, worries, and anxieties. When you make the decision to be a better listener, you are tapping into your empathy.

You are actively focusing on the other person and what they need right now. They don’t need to be fixed or told what to do; they need to talk something through, and they picked you as their thought partner. The moment you give the other person your full attention, you are set up for a successful and meaningful conversation.

More Tips on Becoming a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Scientific American: Now Hear This! Most People Stink at Listening
[2] MIT: Key Tips for Active Listening
[3] Simply Psychology: Pavlov’s Dogs

More by this author

Carol Zee

Teaching effective communication skills for 20+ years

How To Be An Assertive Person Without Being Too Pushy 7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

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How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

We all lose our temper from time to time, and expressing anger is actually a healthy thing to do in our relationships with others. Expressing our differences in opinion allows us to have healthy conflict and many times come to an agreement or understanding that works for everyone. However, there are times when anger can become overwhelming or damaging, and during these times, it’s important to learn how to deal with anger.

Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to relationships, both personal and professional. You may express too much anger, too often, or at times that are only going to make things worse, not better. In this article we will look at anger management techniques that will help you better control your emotions.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with anger.

Expressing Anger

Anger is a natural and normal part of almost any relationship. This includes relationships with your significant other, kids, boss, friends, family, etc. Anger provides us with valuable information if we are willing to listen to it. It clues us in to areas where we disagree with others and things that need to be changed or altered.

Unhealthy Ways to Express Anger

Here are some common yet unhealthy ways to express anger that you should avoid:

Being Passive-Aggressive

This is a term many of us are familiar with. Passive-aggressive behavior happens when someone is angry but uses indirect communication to express their anger.

Some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors include the silent treatment, making comments about someone behind their back, being grumpy, moody, or pouting, or simply not doing tasks or assignments that they should.

This is a passive-aggressive person’s way of showing their anger. It’s not very productive but extremely common.

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Poorly-Timed

Some people get overwhelmed and express anger in a situation where it can’t really do any good.

An example would be getting angry at one person in front of a crowd of people. All that does is make people uncomfortable and shuts them down. It’s not a healthy way to express anger or disagreement with someone.

Ongoing Anger

Being angry all the time is most often a symptom of something else. It’s healthy and normal to express anger when you disagree with someone. However, if someone is angry most of the time and always seems to be expressing their anger to everyone around them, this won’t serve them well.

Over time, people will start to avoid this person and have as little contact as possible. The reason being is no one likes being around someone who is angry all the time; it’s a no-win situation.

Healthy Ways to Express Anger

What about the healthy ways[1] to adapt? When learning how to deal with anger, here are some healthy ways to get you started.

Being Honest

Express your anger or disagreement honestly. Be truthful about what it is that is making you angry. Sometimes this will entail walking away and thinking about it for a bit before you respond.

Don’t say you’re mad at something someone did or said when it’s really something else that upset you.

Being Direct

Similar to being honest, being direct is a healthy way to express anger.

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Don’t talk around something that is making you angry. Don’t say that one thing is making you angry when it’s really something else, and don’t stack items on top of each other so you can unload on someone about 10 different things 6 months from now.

Be direct and upfront about what is making you angry. Ensure you are expressing your anger to the person who upset you or you are angry at, not to someone else. This is very counterproductive.

Being Timely

When something makes you angry, it’s much better to express it in a timely manner. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you, as that’s only going to do more harm than good.

Think of the marriages that seem to go up in flames out of nowhere when the reality is someone kept quiet for years until they hit their breaking point.

Expressing anger as it occurs is a much healthier way of using anger to help us guide our relationships in the moment.

How to Deal With Anger

If you feel angry, how should you deal with it right at that moment?

1. Slow Down

From time to time, I receive an email at work that makes me so angry that steam is probably pouring out of my ears.

In my less restrained moments, I have been known to fire off a quick response, and that typically has ended about as well as you might imagine.

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When I actually walk away from my computer and go do something else for a while, I am able to calm down and think more rationally. After that happens, I am able to respond in a more appropriate and productive manner. Doing things that helps you learn how to release anger can make an uncomfortable situation more manageable before it gets out of hand.

2. Focus on the “I”

Remember that you are the one that’s upset. Don’t accuse people of making you upset because, in the end, it’s your response to what someone did that really triggered your anger. You don’t want to place blame by saying something like “Why don’t you ever put away your dishes?” Say something more like “Having dirty dishes laying on the counter upsets me—can you work with me to come to a solution?”

When you are accusatory towards someone, all that does is increase the tension. This doesn’t usually do anything except make your anger rise higher.

3. Work out

When learning how to deal with anger, exercise is a great outlet. If something happens that angers you, see if you have the opportunity to burn off some of the anger.

Being able to hit the gym to get a hard workout in is great. If this isn’t an option, see if you can go for a run or a bike ride. If you are at work when you become angry and the weather permits, at least go outside for a brisk walk.

Besides working some of your anger out through exercise, this also helps to give your mind a chance to work through some ways to address what it is that upset you.

4. Seek Help When Needed

There are times when we could all use some help. Life can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to seek some help from a mental health professional if it will help you get back to a healthy balance.If you find that you are angry all the time, it might be a good idea to go talk to an expert about learning to control intense emotions. They can give you some sound advice and ideas on how to get your anger to a more manageable and healthy level.

5. Practice Relaxation

We all seem to lead incredibly busy lives, and that’s a good thing if we are loving the life we are living. That being said, it is very beneficial to our physical and mental well-being to take time out for relaxation.

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That can mean spending time doing things that help us calm down and relax, like being around people we enjoy, practicing deep breathing or listening to music. It could be making time for things that help bring us balance like a healthy diet and physical activity.

Many people incorporate techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm their minds and release tension when learning how to deal with anger. Whatever your choice is, ensure you take time out to relax when warning signs of anger start to bubble up.

6. Laugh

Incorporating humor and laughter on a regular basis will help keep anger in check and help you get over a bad mood and feelings of anger more quickly. This isn’t part of formal anger management techniques, but you’ll be surprised by how well it works. Remember, life is a journey that’s meant to be enjoyed fully along the way through healthy emotion. Make sure you take time to laugh and have fun.Surround yourself with people that like to laugh and enjoy life. Don’t work at a job that just causes you stress, which can lead to anger. Work at something you enjoy doing.

7. Be Grateful

It’s easy to focus on the bad in life and the things that cause us negative emotions. It’s vitally important to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things in life that bring us positive emotions, things that we easily forget because we get caught up in the whirlwind of day to day life.

Take time out each day to remind yourself of a few things you are grateful for in order to help you learn how to release anger and invite in more positive feelings.

Final Thoughts

Life can be overwhelming at times. We seem to have constant pressure to achieve more and to always be on the go or motivated. People we are around and situations we are in can cause stress, anger, and negative emotions. At times, it can seem to be too much, and we get angry and our emotions start to get out of control.

During these times, keep in mind that life is an incredible journey, full of wonder and things that bring you joy. When you find yourself angry more often than is healthy, take time out to remember the good things in life—the things that we seem to forget yet bring us so much positive energy and emotions.

Use some of the tips included here to help with how to deal with anger and better control your emotions.

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More Resources on Anger Management

Featured photo credit: Andre Hunter via unsplash.com

Reference

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