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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

11 Tips to Help Improve Your Active Listening Skills

11 Tips to Help Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Listening is arguably the most important element of interpersonal communication. Our ability to listen well impacts the quality of all of our relationships, and not just at home with our family and friends—it can also affect our relationships and interactions on the job, as well as the effectiveness and quality of our work.

Listening is not something that comes naturally or easily for most of us, however; it is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced.

Active listening means, as its name suggests, means that we make a conscious and concerted effort to fully engage with the speaker. Active listening is the difference between simply hearing, and listening with the intent to truly understand. It is a subtle but important distinction.

Here’re some tips to help improve your active listening skills:

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1. Give Focused attention

Try to minimize external distractions. Turn down the noise, and put down or step away from what you’re doing if possible. Also, set aside other internal thinking and dialogue. Don’t watch the clock, fidget or go over your to-do list for later.

2. Maintain Eye Contact

Direct eye contact shows your attention and intention to listen. This doesn’t mean stare though. Intense eye contact can be intimidating to some—especially the shy or introverted. Be reasonable, but try not to let your eyes wander to whatever is going on around you.

3. Smile

Facial expressions convey a lot, and a smile is open, inviting, and encouraging.

4. Watch Body Language

Be conscious of your body language. Keep an open posture, a non-aggressive stance, face the speaker(s), lean in rather than away, watch your hands, how you tilt your head and your expressions. (For instance, I tend to cross my arms in front of me because it feels comfortable and wrinkle my brow because I’m concentrating, but this body language can appear defensive or critical, so I need to make an effort to soften a bit.) Pay attention to the speaker’s body language as well. It works both ways.

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5. Offer Encouragement

Nod occasionally, and offer a judiciously placed ‘Yes,’ “OK”. ‘I understand”, or “Good”. Just be careful not to overdo it or you risk coming across as irritating or rushing. If used sparingly and authentically, encouragement is affirming.

6. Allow Silence

Silence in a conversation can be scary, but a pause allows the speaker to gather their thoughts and for you to digest what is being said.

7. Don’t Interrupt!

It’s disrespectful and distracting.

8. Reflect Back

Restate, but don’t repeat verbatim. Paraphrase what you think the other party is saying with responses such as: “What I’m hearing is…” or “Let me see if I’m following you…” Reflecting back what you’ve heard signals that you’re attempting to understand fully.

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9. Clarify

Ask relevant questions to make sure you understand. Make them open-ended questions, if possible. A “yes” or “no” may confirm, but an explanation offers more information. Probe for feelings. Sometimes the emotions behind the words are more important than the words themselves when someone is seeking to be understood.

10. Keep an Open-Mind

Defer judgments, whether agreement or disagreement and don’t make assumptions. Wait until the speaker is finished before formulating opinions. It’s so hard not to think about what you’re going to say next, especially if there’s disagreement, but you miss what is being said if you’re thinking about your own response.

11. Respond Appropriately

Be open and honest in your responses. Share your thoughts, insights and feelings in a clear, but respectful and considerate manner. You can acknowledge the speaker’s concerns and thoughts even if you disagree…especially when you disagree.

The Bottom Line

Active listening is a model for good communication. Remember that listening is not just to gather information and share ideas, but also to gain perspective and understanding. It takes practice to develop active listening skills, and it’s a habit that has to be reinforced.

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Remind yourself that the goal of conversation is not merely to trade words, but to truly understand what the other party is saying and to be understood in turn.

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Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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Royale Scuderi

A creative strategist, consultant and writer who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment.

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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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