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Published on December 30, 2020

7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

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

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Carol Zee

Teaching effective communication skills for 20+ years

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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