Effective Listening Skills

When you have effective listening skills, that means you’re displaying an interest in a topic of discussion and understanding the information you’re receiving. It’s becoming increasingly important to have communication and listening skills in today’s society. Even though many professions and educational establishments require practical speaking skills, developing listening skills must have the same respect.

What many may not realize is being an active listener is just as essential as speaking. When you have exceptional listening skills, that helps improve relationships, resolve conflicts, and solve problems. In career environments, you’ll experience an improvement in accuracy, fewer errors, and less time wasted when using basic listening skills. Therefore, this skill helps build careers and friendships.

Why Listening to Others is Important

Listening to others is more than implementing basic listening skills. Instead, you must embrace strategies for effective listening. In today’s society, we don’t put much value on effective listening skills. When you have good communication skills, that means you’re using excellent listening and speaking skills. Being an active listener allows you to understand what people are saying to you better and, in doing so, you’re improving relationships.

Why Should You Cultivate Effective Listening Skills?

While speaking, like the way you articulate and engage your listeners, holds a lot of value in today’s society. However, one of the most vital skills in your life is using effective listening skills. Here are examples of why you should cultivate these skills:

  • You’ll see an increase in productivity when you listen.
  • If you’re a student, listening skills help you learn more.
  • When you’re an attentive listener, you’ll have better-negotiating skills.
  • Implementing active listening skills helps with avoiding misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Those who are suffering take comfort when someone is listening attentively.
  • You can strengthen your relationships when implementing active listening skills.

Strategies for Embracing the Importance of Listening:

  • Give the speaker your full attention and, if you’re comfortable, maintain complete eye contact.
  • When you’re listening, don’t be judgmental regarding the speaker’s topic of conversation.
  • Listening means you’re not interrupting those who are talking.
  • Instead of thinking about your response, think about what the person is discussing.

It’s not easy to be an active listener. You’re doing more than hearing the words someone is speaking and identifying the words. When you’re actively listening, it takes mental and physical effort to focus your attention on the speaker.

There are many ways listening happens in your daily life. For example, listening to an audiobook or someone’s podcast requires different concentration techniques compared to listening to a live speaker. Instead, you’ll need to take a multi-faceted and determined approach to listen better.

The Benefits of Being an Active Listener

You’ll find that the more you listen attentively, the better you’ll be at problem-solving and relationship building. However, those are not the only benefits. Here are many other benefits of being an active listener:

Trust Development: As you continue cultivating a habit of being an effective listener, you’ll find more people are opening up to you. Instead of using details to jump to conclusions, they know you’ll listen without judgment instead. Those speaking to you will also sense that you genuinely care about them because you’re actively listening.

Increases Your Perspective: How you view things that are happening in your life is not always how your peers see things. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to think there’s only one way to look at something or understand beliefs. Using basic listening skills helps you understand the perspective of others and see things from different angles.

Patience Strengthening: Being a proactive listener doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it takes time to develop through consistent effort. As you continue getting better at listening, you’ll find that your patience is also strengthening. That means you have the patience to allow the speaker to express their feelings or thoughts honestly and without judgment.

You’re More Approachable: The more patient you are with listening, the more people will want to communicate with you naturally. Because you’re there for them consistently, they’ll have the freedom to express their feelings openly.

Competence and Knowledge Enhancement: Those who have exceptional listening skills are a more capable and competent employee, no matter what position they’re holding. Employees can complete tasks more efficiently and successfully when they can understand instructions, get the most information out of meetings, and hear reports given to them. These effective listening skills also contribute to fulfilling work requirements better by using progressive learning.

Saves Money and Time: When working in a business, implementing active listening skills helps reduce the risk of mistakes and misunderstandings. Companies also save money by avoiding the chances of a project restarting due to misunderstood directives. Employees are less likely to waste budgets and time for a given project.

Detecting and Solving Problems: For those who are holding leadership positions, you must be attentive to what employees are saying at all times. Employees are the first to detect workplace issues and come up with potential solutions. When you actively listen to colleagues regarding their needs or problems that come up, you’re more likely to retain talent.

5 Ways to Listen Better

There is a broad range of listening activities you can participate in to develop your listening and speaking skills. Here, we’re going to talk about 5 ways to listen better so you’ll have not only attentive listening skills but also strategies for proactive listening skills.

When we’re listening, it isn’t uncommon to do so with filters. These filters include attitudes, believes, culture, expectations, intentions, and language. You can be a better listener by being aware of these filters, adjusting them contextually, and being a proactive listener.

Here are five suggestions for being a better listener:

1: Practice Silence

Being a better listener means remaining quiet while someone is talking. Develop the “silence” habit by spending at least three minutes daily in silence. This practice allows you to recalibrate and reset your ears so you can listen to the quietness around you again.

2: Hear While Listening

Hearing and listening are two different things. Are you listening to someone in a noisy place? If so, you might hear what they’re saying without listening. Practice listening by going to places where you can single out sounds, like the ducks at a pond, for instance.

3: Relish and Enjoy

Can you listen to mundane sounds and find enjoyment in them? Some sounds are compelling, like a coffee machine percolating or an engine running. These sounds are around us all the time, but we often tune them out. We “hear” them, but we’re not listening. Focus on these sounds to improve your listening skills.

4: Make Modifications

When you “hear” something, you may need to make modifications to your listening position. For example, is one or more of your filters going up when you hear these sounds? If so, make the appropriate adjustments to help you become a better listener.

5: Show

Being a better listener means you’re showing the speaker you’re paying attention, giving listening cues like “I understand,” or “okay,” and summarizing what the speaker is saying back to them. Show the speaker you’re an active listener by asking questions when they finish talking.

Active Listening Exercises for Adults

Even though it’s tempting to focus on communication activities, you must also develop habits using active listening exercises for adults. These listening activities can occur in the workplace or in your home environment. Ideally, there should be a speaker and at least two or three participants for these listening activities to be the most successful. Here are examples of active listening exercises for adults you can try:

1: Give Simple Directions

When you’re in front of a small group, give them simple directions to follow. Some examples include:

  • Folding paper to create origami sculptures
  • Cutting paper for small craft projects, envelope making, and so on
  • Drawing pictures focusing on what the speaker instructs verbally
  • Asking everyone to give instructions for how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while others try to follow them

2: Play Interactive Games

Sometimes, we depend too much on written instructions. What happens when a group of people gathers to play a game that uses verbal instructions? Here are some examples of games you can play:

  • While each member of the group wears a blindfold, ask them to pass around a ball to see how well they’re listening to instructions.
  • Even though you typically think of this is a children’s game, playing “Simon Says” is an excellent way to determine who is “hearing” and “listening.”
  • The telephone game is a great way to see who is “hearing” what their partner is saying and who is listening.

3: Ask the Group to Define Active Listening

Many individuals mistake the difference between hearing and listening. During this exercise, you’re helping them understand the definition of active listening and how they can develop this skill instead of just hearing someone.

  • Find a definition for active listening, like this one, for example.
  • Ask questions about the definition, including why the group may think listening is a powerful skill on a personal level, why they believe it’s powerful when someone listens to them, and why they think it’s difficult to understand at times.

Proactive Listening Techniques

When you’re a proactive listener, that means you’re showing the speaker that you have an interest. Having proactive listening skills is also an essential skill for business communications. Using proactive listening techniques helps the speaker know you’re understanding what they’re saying.

Proactive Listening Techniques:

  • Show you’re understanding what the speaker is saying by paraphrasing back to them.
  • Use non-verbal cues such as eye contact and nodding.
  • Say verbal affirmations, including, “I know,” “I understand,” and “Thank you.”

If you own a small business, one of your greatest assets is being a proactive listener. If you’re disinterested, distracted, or too busy talking, you’re not using effective listening skills. When this occurs, that causes misunderstandings, miscommunication, and problems without a solution. That’s why you must embrace proactive listening techniques.

1: Give the Speaker Your Undivided Attention

If there are any distractions, block them internally and externally. For example, if a colleague needs to speak to you about a problem, take them into a separate area away from noise and distractions. That way, you can keep your mind steady and prevent it from straying.

It doesn’t matter if you’re receiving a phone call or someone is speaking to you in person, you must pay attention. If they’re speaking using a voice that’s too low, politely ask them to talk louder. Asking that request is especially important if they’re talking to you on the phone.

2: Define the Speaker’s Intent

Proactive listening techniques involve defining the speaker’s intent as well as what they mean. For example, if a client expresses dissatisfaction with your services, but they fail to tell you why. Listening proactively means you’re hearing the details of what the speaker is saying to grasp the more profound meaning.

Therefore, you must ask questions that will probe deeper into understanding the underlying issue. That way, you’re getting to the bottom of things and avoiding a negative client experience. Using this technique allows you to:

  • Determine what the speaker is saying
  • Figure out why they’re saying these things
  • Understanding what the speaker is attempting to achieve

Unless you know all the contributing factors, you can’t solve a problem. So, defining the speaker’s intent is an essential listening skill.

Improving Listening and Speaking Skills

Listening and speaking skills go hand-in-hand. What I mean by that is, when you’re a focused listener, you’ll learn when and how to say things you hear speakers discussing. If you study linguistics, it’s differentiating between input and output.

When working toward improving your listening and speaking skills, always use high-quality resources. Throughout the country, we typically hear what many refer to as high-quality English. However, are you receiving benefits from the discussions you’re hearing?

We’re going to discuss applying basic listening skills to help improve your speaking. The only way to accomplish this goal, though, is if you’re genuinely listening to the speaker. If you’re a passive listener, that means you’re only hearing what people are saying and not fully understanding.

Don’t Look at the Screen When Watching Movies

While this might sound odd because turning on a movie means you want to watch. However, when you want to improve your listening comprehension, this is a valuable practice. When you improve your listening comprehension, that aids in better speaking skills.

Select one of your favorite movies. That way, you don’t have to worry about the plot or what’s happening on the screen. Instead, you’re focusing on listening to the dialogue. Try to figure out the movie’s details and what’s happening based on what the characters are saying.

When you’re listening, think about the character’s voices. More specifically, their:

Using this strategy helps you become a better speaker because you’re developing a better understanding of the intonation individuals use when pronouncing certain words. So, during this activity, you’re indirectly improving your pronunciation.

Visit Your Local Mall

If you already love visiting the mall, this is an excellent opportunity to improve your speaking skills, learn new vocabulary, and enhance your listening comprehension. You can accomplish this goal by engaging in conversations with those who work in the stores you visit.

Shopping malls or department stores are beneficial for these skill improvements because they both feature a variety of options. These options offer more opportunities for conversations. Head to your favorite store and find an item you’d like to talk more about with an associate.

During this activity, ask a lot of questions. That way, the associate is giving you a lot of information you have to listen to and comprehend. If they say new words, think about how the associate is using them contextually. You’ll have a more useful conversation if you pick a store you like, or that contains items with which you’re familiar.

Articulate What You’re Doing Daily

If you spend a lot of time alone, it’s challenging to engage with others in conversation and improve your listening and speaking skills. However, it’s not impossible. When you’re busy completing daily chores, describe what you’re doing out loud.

Completing this activity involves speaking about what you’re doing daily. It can be anything from ironing clothes to using your vacuum cleaner. Try to use as much description as possible to help you understand how to speak in a way that others will follow.

Implementing this strategy helps you improve your vocabulary and pronunciation. Listen to how you’re saying things with a critical ear. That way, you can work on how you want others to hear you when speaking.

The Benefits of Attentive Listening Skills

Practicing attentive listening skills means you’re facing the speaker and giving them all of your attention. If you’re always looking around, that makes it difficult for someone to engage with you. People will know you’re listening attentively when there’s eye contact. While it might not be comfortable for you to use full eye contact, try to make sure the person talking to you understands they have your full attention.

According to a study by CreditDonkey, the average person speaks between 125 and 175 words each minute, and they listen to approximately 450 words per minute. That’s a lot of information to process! These words can come from listening to the radio, television, or conversations. This same study indicates that you’re brain isn’t processing everything you listen to, and, on average, many individuals remember approximately 17-25% of what’s said.

That’s where attentive listening comes into play. It’s beneficial to have attentive listening skills because, instead of hearing what’s around you, you’re listening and comprehending.

Here are some benefits to having active listening skills:

  • Information gathering: When you’re listening attentively, that encourages the speaker to elaborate during their discussion. In turn, you’re receiving more in-depth information about the topic.
  • Feeling “heard”: When a speaker feels heard, they’ll enjoy talking with you more. That feeling helps establish a trusting and open environment. When you’re an active listener, you’re focusing entirely on understanding the topic and, in doing so, it improves your relationship.
  • Resolving conflicts: Being an attentive listener means you understand when issues arise. Therefore, these skills can help prevent disputes and solve misunderstandings.
  • Outcome improvement: Having clear communication is essential for understanding and responding in the best possible way. When you’re working in the business world, using active listening skills helps you avoid frustration and achieve excellent outcomes.

There are benefits to improving your attentive listening skills in the workplace, as well. During conversations, pay attention to how the listener is:

  • Using their mannerisms to show you that they hear you
  • Acting in ways indicating they’re not paying attention
  • Implementing methods for reflecting on what you’re saying

You can shape your attentive listening style by having a follow-up conversation regarding this experience and gathering insights. Continue engaging with colleagues and friends in discussions about attentive listening as practice.

If you’re part of a conversation where it’s brief, like during meetings or an interview, use attentive listening skills to help reduce your inner thoughts. This strategy is especially beneficial when others are speaking in short bursts, and you need to retain that information.

Become a more attentive listener by:

  • Maintaining a level of eye contact that’s comfortable
  • Taking calm, slow breaths to help you refocus when your mind wanders
  • Keeping a comfortable posture
  • Listening for pauses to ask a question or offer reflective statements

You can communicate attentiveness using non-verbal cues. Examples of these cues include nodding your head, leaning toward the speaker, using facial expressions, and avoiding distractions.

Listening to Understand vs Listening to Reply

Do you understand what it means to listen to understand vs listening to reply? According to Stephen R. Covey, “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Even if you have a lot to say in response to the speaker’s topic of discussion, sometimes it’s best to remain silent.

People feel the most respect and appreciation when their listeners have no distractions and remain silent. It’s challenging to keep thoughts quiet and genuinely hear what individuals are saying. We have a habit of focusing on variables that are out of our control. Instead, focus on listening, which you can control.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say,” indicates Zeno of Citium. That quote says a lot when you’re considering the implications of listening to understand vs listening to reply, especially if you’re listening with confirmation bias.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Statistical errors or misunderstandings are common when individuals use confirmation bias. It’s a practice involving searching for or interpreting information, so it confirms one’s beliefs or perceptions. So, if this information confirms an individual’s previous beliefs, they tend to favor what the speaker is saying. That’s an issue because, instead of listening to understand what the speaker is saying, you’re listening to reply. That’s when conversations become competitive.

What is Competitive Listening?

Competitive listening is when people are half-listening to the speaker. Individuals do this because they’re placing more focus on their responses. As soon as a pause occurs, they interrupt with arguments, opinions, and thoughts. Therefore, these individuals are spending more time talking than listening. Acting in this way can become problematic because the listener is pushing their opinions or views upon the speaker. Instead of using effective listening skills, these individuals are formulating a reply.

About Listening to Understand vs Listening to Reply

Here are some tips for listening to understand instead of listening to reply:

Don’t interrupt or jump to conclusions: Wait for the speaker to finish, and then it’s your turn to talk. The only exception is if you need a speaker to repeat themselves. In that case, you can gently make that request.

Add details when paraphrasing: During this strategy, you’re showing the speaker you are genuinely listening to what they have to say. Or, if points aren’t clear, you can demonstrate your understanding of what they were saying and emphasize what aspects need more in-depth information.

Focus on the big picture: If you’re listening to a lecture, it isn’t uncommon to not understand the purpose immediately. Instead of focusing on the details of the talk, listen for the big picture. Once you know the overall point, it’s easier to understand the facts.

Note all non-verbal communications: Is the speaker maintaining eye contact? What’s their posture? Are they speaking smooth and fast or slow and disjointed? Make a note of these non-verbal cues without placing judgment on them.

Final Thoughts

Using effective listening skills is much more than hearing what a speaker is saying. Even if you have basic listening skills, you know that “hearing” someone isn’t enough. Therefore, you must use active listening skills to prevent yourself from misunderstanding what the speaker is saying.

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