10 Steps To Effective Listening

ListenFrom Listening – an important aspect of effective communication

In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important then ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems.

Here are 10 tips for developing effective listening skills.

Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.

In most Western cultures, eye contact is considered a basic ingredient of effective communication. When we talk, we look each other in the eye. Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances. Excuse the other guy, but stay focused yourself.

Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.

Mentally screen out distractions, like background activity and noise. Don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.

Step 3: Keep an open mind.

Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things he/she tells you. Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside his/her brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening. Don’t be a sentence-grabber by interrupting and finishing another person’s sentences: chances are, you’ll land way off base, because you’ll be following your own train of thought without learning, where the speaker’s thoughts were heading to.

Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.

Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying.

Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”

Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:

  • “I’m more important than you are.”
  • “What I have to say is more interesting, accurate or relevant.”
  • “I don’t really care what you think.”
  • “I don’t have time for your opinion.”
  • “This isn’t a conversation, it’s a contest, and I’m going to win.”

We all think and speak at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower communicator.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. If you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution, at least get the speaker’s permission. Ask, “Would you like to hear my ideas?”

Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.

When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Back up a second. I didn’t understand what you just said about…”

Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.

At lunch, a colleague is excitedly telling you about her trip to Vermont and all the wonderful things she did and saw. In the course of this chronicle, she mentions that she spent some time with a mutual friend. You jump in with, “Oh, I haven’t heard from Alice in ages. How is she?” and, just like that, discussion shifts to Alice and her divorce, and the poor kids, which leads to a comparison of custody laws, and before you know it an hour is gone and Vermont is a distant memory.

This particular conversational affront happens all the time. Our questions lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don’t.

Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.

If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when she expresses joy, fearful when she describes her fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.

Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.

Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be thrilled!” “What a terrible ordeal for you.” “I can see that you are confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.”

Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.

Face to face with a person, you can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. These are clues you can’t ignore. When listening, remember that words convey only a fraction of the message.

From 10 Steps to Effective Listening

CommunicationFrom What Are You Not Saying?

THE END

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23 thoughts on “10 Steps To Effective Listening

  1. satzie says:

    Very useful. Thank you for sharing. All tips are insightful and Step 4 is impressive. Happy Weekend 🙂

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Happy weekend to you too. 🙂 I’m a terrible listener myself, so i found these points very useful and now I’m using this post as a reminder to myself hoping to develop better listening skills. Not a very easy task I should admit.

      • satzie says:

        I get it.
        I met some friends yesterday and i tried some of the steps from this post. I was impressed with its results.
        I consider myself a bad listener and too much talkative, sometimes.
        But when i started listening more yesterday, i realized this post suits many.
        And at the end of the meet i realized how important it was to listen properly. This is such a wonderful share.
        Thank you again.
        Cheerz 🙂

      • Otrazhenie says:

        I am trying to follow these points now and it does make a lot of difference. Glad that they helped you as well 🙂

  2. Very interesting post..I ve shared it on Twitter….

  3. jeanw5 says:

    Listening to the words is important in communication, but, as you said, words express thoughts and emotions and so we must also listen to the energies and feelings words express in non-verbal ways, if we care to understand what is being said and why. I envy your graphics.
    Jean

  4. katelon says:

    Great article. I’m going to reblog!

  5. katelon says:

    Reblogged this on Empower and Balance and commented:
    Great Article!

  6. Ajaytao2010 says:

    Very beautiful post

  7. Dove You says:

    Thank you Otrazhenie, life is about relationship on so many levels the importance of knowing the art of listening when it comes communication is vital. I appreciate your writing this. I can see why my communication brakes down sometimes I have not always been a good listener.

    Thank you for stopping by and liking my blog.

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Don’t worry, Dove You, I’m also not a naturally good listener myself. I wrote this post as a reminder for myself to stop, think and listen before opening a mouth to talk 🙂 Glad that you found it helpful too.

  8. Nice job. I studied psychology and counseling in college and remember the interviewer/interviewee exercises. You cover a lot of great ideas about active listening. I would also add that it is important to make open-ended (in order to promote conversation), not just closed-ended statements (such as yes or no). Thanks for sharing this post with me.

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