7 Steps To More Effective Listening

A photo of a gentleman and two ladies engaged in conversation.Today’s topic deals with one of the most vital, yet hardest to  master communication skills in existence… effective listening!  We all know how to “hear,” but we’re not usually as good at really listening to what people are saying.  I know that this is a skill that I’ve struggled with and still have to work at, but it is crucial to clear communication and it  is more than worth the effort.

Without proper listening skills, communication can become garbled, meanings lost and the end result is frustration, confusion, disappointment or much worse.

Here are seven steps to help you listen more effectively:

  1. Give the speaker your full an complete attention. I know that “multi-tasking” is all the rage, but the fact is that most people can’t do two things at the same time, and give each activity the proper attention it deserves.  If the message the speaker is giving is worth taking the time to listen to, it’s worth your undivided attention.
    • If you’re on a tight deadline, and can’t stop to listen at that moment, tell the speaker and ask them to wait a moment or schedule a later time for the conversation.  You could say something like, “Can you give me a moment?  I’m in the middle of adding up these numbers.  As soon as I’m finished, I can give you my full attention.”
  2. Remove distractions if possible. Don’t try to watch TV or play a game of Monopoly while someone is trying to talk to you.  The distraction will keep you from absorbing what is being said.
    • If you’re working on another project, turn away from it and face the speaker during the conversation.  This will help you curb the desire to go back to what you were doing.
    • Turn off TVs.  Don’t just “mute” them.  This creates a mental separation that will allow you to focus on what is being said.
  3. Pay attention to your “body language.” It’s easy to tell if you’re really listening by the position of your body.  As mentioned above, turn and face the speaker when you’re ready to listen.
    • Lean slightly inward, toward the speaker, during the conversation.  This lets the speaker know that you are paying attention to every word.
    • Don’t turn away from the speaker during the conversation unless if possible and avoid taking on additional tasks until the discussion is finished.  In other words, don’t go back to painting that masterpiece until the conversation is done.
  4. Making eye contact with the speaker is vital! In most western cultures, eye contact sends the message, “I hear you. I’m listening.”
    • Furthermore, holding eye contact with the speaker says, “You have all of my attention at this moment.”
    • Not all cultures view eye contact the same way. If you are dealing with someone from a cultural environment, different from your own, it is probably wise to do a little bit of research on their customs and attitudes.
    • If you’re like me and have a slight hearing loss, it is often easier to watch someone’s mouth as they speak.  This can be disconcerting to the speaker.  What I do is let the speaker know why I do this and I try to make eye contact as often as I can while making sure that I don’t miss anything they are saying.
  5. Throttle your mind and focus on the words being said. Too often, we allow our minds to race to other topics during conversations.  We either start thinking about projects that we need to do or, most likely, we start formulating our pithy reply before the speaker has reached the end of their sentence.  The key is to refrain from working on your reply until the speaker has stopped talking.  Your goal in listening is to absorb the message the speaker is sending to you.
  6. Reflect the message back to the speaker. When the speaker has finished, take a moment to tell him/her what you believe you heard.
    • It might sound something like this, “The meeting has been moved to next Friday at 2:00 and you need me to bring the latest financials… and the doughnuts, right?”
  7. Let the speaker clarify. As the listener, stating what you heard allows the speaker to correct or clarify his remarks. The speaker then hopefully replies something like, “Yes, that’s right. Can you do it?” or “No, not doughnuts.  You know everyone prefers bagels.”

Effective listening is important in business and in your personal life, but it is absolutely critical in your personal relationships.  How many times have you heard a wife say, “He just doesn’t listen to me.  He tunes me out.”  Perhaps you’ve heard a husband say, “I answer her question, but she doesn’t listen to a word I say.”  Listening can be a building block that helps you construct a solid, life-long relationship.  Conversely, the lack of attentive listening can be like dynamite that blows a relationship apart.

You’ll know that effective listening has taken place when you hear and understand what you are being told or asked.

Attentive listening is a skill well worth your time and effort to master.  You’ll learn more and you’ll be amazed at the reactions you will get from others.  It’s a fact that most people like to talk. By, attentively listening, you are giving them the attention they desire and you are telling them that their message, and they themselves, are worth your time and attention.

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