One of humankind’s most valuable assets is our ability to communicate. Whether we’re talking verbally, through the written word, or even by using sign language or body posture, we are always expressing our thoughts to others. But what happens when we don’t correctly translate our ideas into words? Drama! No thanks. Here are some useful listening and speaking skills to help you be a better communicator.
Why Do you Need Listening and Speaking Skills?
You might be asking yourself, why does it matter if you’re a good speaker? You’re not into politics. You won’t be addressing a large crowd of strangers who are staring at you with their laser-sharp eyes. Okay, I get that. And I don’t blame you. I’d instead step on a hundred legos than talk in front of a big group of people.
But being an excellent communicator isn’t just for public speaking. Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone because they misunderstood your point of view? Ah, I bet your wheels are spinning now. Using listening and speaking skills can help you avoid future communication conflicts.
Something that most people don’t realize is that you don’t just talk with your words. When you become an experienced communicator, you learn to pay attention to other factors, such as tone of voice, body language, and even word choices. These contextual clues can give you more information about the speaker’s emotions and inner thoughts than just listening to what they say.
What are Listening and Speaking Skills?
From a very young age, caretakers begin to teach their children how to talk. It usually starts with getting their baby to say “mama” or “dada” first – I take pride in the fact that all four of my children said mama first.
The mind-numbing repetition of two syllables, mama, over and over for days, weeks, sometimes even months, is a person’s first experience with listening skills. And a parent’s first experience with something they’ll do for the rest of their lives – continuously repeating themselves to a child who ignores them.
Over time, as the brain develops more, babies begin to babble, which is often just random sounds. This is the start of practicing their speaking skills. With continued work, they start to mimic the sounds they’re being exposed to – mama, dada, ba-ba. It begins with simple syllables, and then before you know it, they’re back talking you and using words, you have to look up in the dictionary. True story of my life.
Your Skills Improve as You Age
As we get older, our listening and communication skills improve. You learn how to use larger words and understand more complex thoughts. You go from small syllables to small sentences and then larger ones. You pick up new ways of communicating as you observe the world around you. And over time, you develop a way of talking that is unique to you.
But we can also pick up bad habits that interfere with our ability to communicate effectively. Improving your listening and speaking skills can help you correct these problems so that you can become a better communicator.
Over the years, you start to learn that sometimes, it’s what you don’t say that makes as much impact as what you do say. You discover that although they’re just words, what you say can affect a person as much as something physical. Words are powerful, and with power comes great responsibility.
How to Use Listening Skills
If you want to be a good communicator, you have to know how to listen correctly. You may think that you’re an excellent listener because all your friends come to you when they have problems. But how much attention are you devoting to listening?
Listening skills teach you how to do more than just listen to the words. You learn how to analyze what is being said so that you can formulate the best response. You begin to learn the key traits of a person’s speaking habits. And you start to pay attention to things like:
- word choice
- body language
- eye contact
Being a good listener requires you to give your full attention to the conversation. You can’t listen properly if you’re busy doing something else at the same time. You may think you can drive great and talk on the phone at the same time, but you’re giving one task more attention than the other without realizing it. Don’t talk on the phone and drive!
How to Use Speaking Skills
Being a good speaker is an essential trait that everyone should know, even if they rarely talk to people. Speaking skills teach you how to communicate effectively by understanding the dynamics of the conversation. You learn how to match your tone to your partner’s so that the conversation flows easier.
Speaking skills also teach you how to know your audience, so you know how to pick your word selections, your tone, even your actions. You don’t want to be talking about something exciting but be sitting still and solemn-looking. Or explaining something sad but seeming aloof and unaffected.
It’s not just what you say that makes you a good speaker. You also have to know how to talk with your body. Body language speaks as loud as words. If you’re rolling your eyes or fidgeting and avoiding eye contact while talking to someone, they might think you’re untruthful.
My fiance likes to point out that my facial expressions say more about what I think than my mouth does. It takes work to keep my face from getting me into trouble sometimes.
Be a Good Listener
I have learned that raising teenagers (yes, I have two – 15 and 14) requires the patience of a saint. I have to continually remind myself that I was once a crazy teen before I lose my crap and put the hammer down when my teenagers turn into insolent monsters. But something I’ve learned in the past year is that I get a lot less backlash when I communicate with them the right way.
When I first started stomping my way through the uncharted territory of mothering a teenager, I hit every possible landmine around. Hugging my son in front of his friends on the first day of 8th grade. Trying to be “cool” by using the latest slang. And worst of all, I decided to be his best friend instead of his mother. He lost all respect for me.
My children are my greatest blessing in life. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. When my son started to pull away from me, I realized I had to do something. So, we talked. I kept quiet and I listened to what he really had to say. If you haven’t had a long, serious conversation with your kids in a while, try it. I promise you’ll be shocked by how complex their thoughts can get.
As a mother, it filled me with pride, and a bit of sadness, to see my baby boy expressing himself so articulately. He remained calm and collected as he explained to me why we weren’t as close as we used to be. For the first time, I listened to what he had to say instead of assuming I knew best just because I was an adult.
And now, my 15-year-old son happily brags that I’m the coolest mom ever and doesn’t mind giving me a hug and an affectionate “I love you shortstuff” right there in front of his friends in the high school parking lot. Being a good listener opens the door to healthier relationships in all areas of your life.
Be a Good Talker
Some people are natural conversationalists. They can chatter on and on about anything without running out of steam. Of course, yours truly happily sits as Queen of the Ramblers. But being able to carry on a never-ending conversation doesn’t mean that you know how to communicate correctly.
There’s more to being a good talker than just saying a bunch of stuff. An experienced communicator engages with the audience. They make eye contact. Their body posture is relaxed. And their speech pattern mimics their listeners’ tones. They aren’t going to be formal and use big words if their listener is tossing out slang and using sentence fragments.
A good speaker knows his audience. You wouldn’t want to tell a bunch of physics jokes to an eight-year-old. And you wouldn’t expect a room full of high schoolers to be interested in learning how to prepare for retirement. Sentence length, vocabulary, topics – if you’re an experienced speaker, you know how to have different kinds of conversations.
Try These Listening Skills
The first step to being a good communicator is to engage in your conversations. Actively participate with nonverbal feedback when you’re listening, so your partner knows you’re paying attention. Don’t get distracted by something else just because you aren’t talking. Hearing what is being said is just as important as your response.
If you want to become a great communicator, improve your listening skills with these simple tips.
One of the most common complaints people have about conversing with other people is that they seem distracted. Have you ever tried talking with someone, but they’re busy staring at their phone and barely responding with an mm-hmm or huh? When you’re talking to someone who’s not paying full attention to you, it can cause frustration and even hurt feelings.
Avoid offending the person you’re talking to by giving them your undivided attention. Don’t check your phone. Put away your paperwork or study materials. Turn off the television and make sure you can hear each other without interference (don’t try having a conversation with the music blaring). Pay attention to what is being said.
For me, learning how to wait for my turn was one of the hardest listening skills to master. I’m not even joking when I say that it’s a struggle for me to stay silent longer than five minutes at a time – even when I’m alone. I’ll talk to my dogs just to say something. I swear I’m not crazy!
When you’re listening to someone speak, it’s crucial not to interrupt them. Let them say their piece before you respond. If you interrupt, it can cause a shift in the conversation, which can make them not get to finish getting things off their chest. Problems don’t get resolved, so the conflict continues to occur.
Don’t think about your response while you’re listening. You can end up tuning out the speaker and missing something important. When you do finally get to talk, don’t get defensive. Address their concerns before you bring up your issues.
Listen to the Words
While you’re listening to the speaker, pay attention to their word choices. Are they using a lot of slang and contractions? Or is the conversation stilted and formal? The tone of the discussion is an important aspect. In some cultures, formality is essential. You could cause offense if you act casually. You wouldn’t address your father-in-law or boss as “bruh” or “dude;” you wouldn’t address your friend or child as “sir.”
What is the tone of the conversation? Is it friendly and casual? Or stiff and professional? What pitch is the speaker using? When you talk, your voice changes sound. When you’re angry, it can get louder and deeper. If you’re fibbing, you might get squeaky and high-pitched. When you’re excited, you tend to talk in a higher pitch and a faster cadence.
Paying attention to how the speaker sounds can give you clues as to their sincere thoughts. People don’t always say what they think. They may tell what they think you want to hear. Or they could be lying for a number of different reasons. Being able to detect the differences in a person’s speaking habits makes you a better listener and communicator.
Observe Body Language
Body language can be a powerful tool when it comes to communicating. Think of how many times you’ve expressed false excitement over something you don’t care about – if you’re a parent, you’ve got plenty of examples. A child may not realize that you roll your eyes as you say, “I can’t wait!” But an adult would notice that your body language is inconsistent with your words.
Sarcasm is a fine art that takes years to master. Only the best of us can mask our glibness so that we’re not caught. When you’re listening to someone talk, pay attention to their body language. Do they have a defensive posture such as crossed arms or leaning away from you? They could be worried about you judging them.
Are they fidgety and avoiding eye contact? Mumbling and stuttering? Shifting their weight from one foot to the other or glancing at the door? These are classic signs of dishonesty and being uncomfortable. They could be telling you a lie.
There is a difference between being an excellent speaker and being a good conversationalist. You may be able to have random conversations about mundane topics with strangers, but how well do you communicate when it matters? Can you get your point across without causing a conflict? Do you know how to have a conversation that leads to the resolution of problems? Or do you typically just have a fight that exposes the issues but doesn’t fix them?
Knowing how to communicate correctly is the key to being a good speaker. Try these tips to improve your speaking skills.
One of the worst things you can do is let your emotions reign while you’re trying to communicate. Unchecked feelings can make you say something in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back. Many relationships – friendships, romantic partnerships, even work relationships – have been ruined by a heated argument.
Some people are just more emotional than others. I’m a Cancer sign, so I suffer from experiencing intense emotions and random mood swings. It takes a lot of self-control to keep myself in check when I get upset and want to express myself.
Take a few minutes to collect yourself before you respond. Use deep breathing techniques to help you calm down and re-center. Reflect on the situation that has made you upset. Try to see it from a different point of view. When you respond, don’t attack. Don’t yell. And don’t accuse. It’s better to talk things through in a rational, logical manner.
If something bothers you, you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. Honesty is essential for your mental health. Keeping things bottled up eventually leads to a blowup. That’s never pretty. When you want to address something sensitive with someone, it’s best to prepare them for it.
Explain that you want to have an honest, open discussion about some things on your mind. Don’t hold back because you’re worried that the person will get upset. However, you shouldn’t be harsh about what you have to say. Provide specific examples of what it is you don’t like so the listener can get a full understanding of what you’re discussing.
While you’re having this discussion, remember to listen to your partner’s responses. Are they being understanding? Do they seem willing to see things from your point of view and make changes? Are they giving reasonable explanations about their behavior? Have you been misinterpreting things?
Control Your Expressions
When you’re having a conversation, it’s important to remember that your audience will be watching your face and body as much as they will be listening to your words. Remember to smile and make eye contact if you’re having a friendly talk. Being animated makes listening more exciting. I frequently talk with my hands to make my statements more dramatic.
If you’re talking about something serious, you certainly wouldn’t want to appear like you’re joking. Don’t fiddle with objects or keep your eyes lowered. These are signs of insecurity and can undermine your authority. Why should someone believe what you say when you don’t seem confident about it?
Some of us aren’t comfortable being the center of attention. Who can blame you? But it’s vital to seem confident when you’re talking if you want your audience to take you seriously. Make eye contact with your listener, even if it’s only for a second. Keep your head up, your voice steady, and your body still.
Nothing’s worse than listening to someone who rambles senselessly. After a while, you tend to zone out. If you want your audience to listen to what you’re saying, you have to be engaging. Make sure you’re expressing the appropriate response to the topic you’re discussing. If you’re pumped about a new song you hear, you don’t want to be annoying when you talk about it.
Make your listener feel how you feel. Inspire emotions from your audience. Don’t just go on and on about the topic. Say two or three powerful things to start the topic and then pull your listener in by getting a response from them.
Ask questions and build on their feedback to get the conversation rolling. Be animated and use your hands and body to add enthusiasm or to illustrate a point. Avoid one or two-word responses to their answers and encourage your listeners to offer complete opinions instead of simple replies.
Stick to Your Point
When you’re talking to someone, it’s easy to get sidetracked. If you have an objective to obtain through your conversation – maybe you’re trying to persuade someone to see your point – then it’s better to keep on topic.
Have a few essential points planned and present these throughout the conversation. Don’t throw them all in at one time. You want your audience to have time to speak too. And you don’t want to use up all your crucial information in the beginning and be struggling to come up with new stuff to discuss.
When you go all over the map during a conversation, it can look like you’re not as informed on the topic as you claimed. If you’re trying to be persuasive about something, you might not be getting your point across as you’d planned.
Practice in the Mirror
If you’re worried about how you look when you’re talking, practice in the mirror. Make eye contact with yourself and observe the facial expressions you make. Can people tell how you feel from your looks? If not, work on becoming more expressive. Do you give too much away? Practice toning down how often you make one expression by substituting with another.
You could also record yourself talking and watch the replay. Do you notice that you frequently repeat yourself? Do you overuse any specific words? Are you speaking in a clear, concise voice, or do you sound like you’re mumbling? Are you using too much slang or vocabulary that’s too complex for your audience?
Being able to observe yourself as you’re talking can help make you more comfortable speaking in front of people. With practice, you can make sure that you know how you look and sound while you’re talking. You’ll gain more confidence and be able to talk about any topic with ease.
Learn How to Use Humor
Humor is a popular and easy to use tool for communication. It has the power to ease tension, improve sadness, and reduce a lousy mood. Of course, humor might not be appropriate for all situations, so use your best judgment.
Everyone has their own brand of humor, so don’t be upset if someone doesn’t get your joke. Laugh at yourself and move along. If you have to explain it, the joke is no longer funny, so it’s not worth continuing to discuss.
Knowing how to make someone laugh is one of the most powerful gifts you can get. You can help change someone’s entire day with a single laugh. Don’t be afraid to entertain those around you when you notice they seem in a funk. They’ll appreciate your consideration of their emotional health.
Often, when you notice something is wrong with a friend, and you attempt to help them cheer up, they will confide in you about their concerns. This can strengthen the bond between you and improve your relationship. Be a good friend, and share a laugh.
Listening and Speaking Skills Can Improve Your Life
Being able to communicate effectively is an important life skill. With practice, you can learn how to become a better listener and speaker. Learning how to listen attentively and pay attention to nonverbal cues can make you a better communicator. Being able to say the right things at the right time is also a key component of being a good speaker that you need to master.
Follow our helpful tips so that you can improve your listening and speaking skills. These simple suggestions don’t require a lot of effort, but they can make a huge difference in your ability to communicate with others. Incorporate them into your life and notice the change.