I have a confession to make when it comes to listening skills. I’m an interrupter. When I already know what someone is trying to say, or I have a point to make, I just cut right in. I know I shouldn’t do it. I know it’s rude. It drives me crazy when other people do it, so why do I?
Most of us aren’t very good listeners. Interrupting may not be your Achilles heel, but I’m guessing there is some bad habit you bring to the listening side of your communication.
I think it’s safe to say we can all use some help with this. Listening is often referred to as the #1 communication skill necessary to be successful in business. I would argue that goes for home as well.
Here’s why improving your listening skills are so very important.
- Good listening prevents miscommunication.
- Good listening reduces frustration for the speaker.
- Listening is required for all types of communication.
- On an average day, we will spend over half of our time (55%) engaged in listening.
Becoming a better listener means breaking some habits and developing some new ones. Here are five ways you can improve your listening skills.
1. Be Self Aware
Most of us aren’t aware we are as bad at listening as we really are. The first and most important way to improve this skill is to discover your own listening style. There are three practical ways to do this:
- Ask someone you trust to give you honest and specific feedback on how well you listen. You may be surprised that others don’t see you the same way you see yourself.
- When you’re in the middle of a conversation, pay attention to how you’re responding. Be aware of your body posture, your facial expression, and your thoughts. Are you focused?
- Take my listening skills quiz and see how you do.
2. Be Interested and Attentive
Forget about your cell phone and other distractions. Maintain comfortable eye contact to show that you really are paying attention. Then focus on what the person is saying, not on how you will respond. If your mind wanders off, ask the person to back up and repeat what they said. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what you’re hearing.
3. Be Patient
People think faster than they speak. On average, a person speaks about 125-175 words a minute. The average number of words you’re able to listen to is much more than that – around 450.
Practice listening as though you have plenty of time (even if you think you don’t). In other words, slow your listening down. Don’t jump ahead or practice your reply in your head. When it’s your turn to talk, take a pause and think before you speak.
4. Don’t Interrupt
Don’t cut someone off before they have finished speaking. Ever. If you accidentally do, apologize, and then let them continue to speak. Sometimes it’s really difficult to not jump right in and correct misconceptions or complete a sentence for someone. Make a conscious effort to respect the right of someone to finish their thought and express their opinion without interruption.
5. Listen to Nonverbal Messages
Some experts claim that as much as 93% of our communication is nonverbal. This is why it’s so critical to pay attention more to an individual’s nonverbal messages than simply the words you hear. Consider their tone of voice, facial expressions, energy level, posture, or changes in behavior patterns. Do the nonverbal cues match the message you are receiving?
The Listening Challenge
- Pick one of these five listening areas above to work on.
- Every conversation you are in, practice improving this skill.
One of the best ways to encourage good listening in others is to model it yourself. In other words, if you want to be heard, you better start listening better yourself.
It takes time, energy, and commitment to be a better listener but the payoff is huge. It can improve your work performance, opportunities for advancement, and your relationships at home.
Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.