How to Improve your Listening Skills

Christopher Witt —  February 22, 2013

a person straining to listenPeople work with me, for the most part, because they want to become better communicators. And by that they mean, usually, that they want to become better speakers. I find that improving their listening skills often proves more beneficial.

Listening isn’t a passive skill. You don’t simply sit there and let the other person talk. You interact. You tune out distractions. You give people cues (verbal and nonverbal) that you’re listening. You pay attention to every way they communicate — to their words, gestures, facial expressions, eyes, pauses, everything. You ask questions. You rephrase what you hear.

Listening is also a gift. You are giving people something of value — something most people don’t give them.

Here are what I consider to be…

The Most Common Poor Listening Habits:

  1. Talking instead of listening.
  2. Presuming that you know what the other person is thinking.
  3. Preparing what you’re going to say instead of listening.
  4. Mentally arguing with the speaker.
  5. Thinking about something else while the speaker is talking.
  6. Getting impatient with the speaker.
  7. Letting the environment distract you.
  8. Dividing your attention — reading your email, filling out reports, staring at someone cute!
  9. Not asking questions.
  10. Being distracted by the speaker’s mannerisms, voice, or appearance.

And here are..

5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

  1. Give Your Full Attention.
    Even if you’re an efficient multitasker, you really can’t listen well while you’re engaged in another activity. You’ll miss something of what people want to communicate — a feeling, a nuance, a connection. Set aside what you’re working on, and tune out your mental distractions.
  2. Look and Sound Like You’re Paying Attention.
    Show people you’re paying attention. If they think you’re tuning them out — whether you are or not — they’ll assume you don’t care. And they’ll stop talking. Give people visual cues that you’re listening. Turn your whole body to face them, look them in the eye, and lean in. Give them auditory cues that you’re paying attention.
  3. Stop Mind Reading.
    Making assumptions about people’s motives and feelings is patronizing and often misleading. Approach each encounter as if it is entirely new. Even if people repeat themselves, look for something original in what they’re saying. Being a committed listener will challenge people to be more thoughtful conversationalists.
  4. Ask Probing Questions.
    Most people’s conversation is a small portion of what they’re thinking and feeling. If you never ask questions, they won’t tell you their true insights, needs, feelings, and motivations. Start by asking clarifying questions: “Do you mean…” or “Did I understand you to say…” Then follow up with exploratory questions: “How did you come to that conclusion?” or “What makes you feel that way?” or “Can you tell me more about why you want that?”
  5. Practice Silence.
    When you ask a question, give people time to formulate their response. Silence is a good thing. It allows for reflection. Be patient and you’ll be surprised by what people come out with.

Take The Listening Quiz.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

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  1. How to Improve your Listening Skills - Christop... - February 6, 2014

    […] Here is a list of the 10 most common poor listening habits and 5 ways to improve your listening skills. Listening isn't a passive skill. It's a gift you give.  […]