Poor communication skills decrease your ability to build and maintain satisfying relationships… and for many people, communication problems are basically just listening problems.
Are you a good listener?
Could you be a better listener?
If better listening skills lead to better relationships and better relationships increase life satisfaction and happiness… would investing a little time and effort to improve your powers of attention make any sense?
Here’s how to start:
Step 1 – Take a quick self test and find out whether you’re a good listener or not.
Step 2 – If the results of the test show that you need to work on your listening, continue on to the end of the article and learn 14 easy listening improvement skills.
Test Your Listening Powers:1
Answer each of the following questions with either:
- Rarely or never
- Frequently or always
- Do you ever pretend like you’re paying attention when you’re not?
- Do you ever get distracted by outside noises or stimuli when listening to someone talk?
- Do you find yourself planning what you will say next while your conversation partner is still talking?
- Do you ever interrupt others?
- Do you ever finish other people’s sentences?
- Does your mind ever wander during a conversation?
- Do you focus on the words being said and conveniently ignore the feelings that lurk below the words?
If you answered rarely or never to most of these questions, then you probably have excellent listening skills - If you answered frequently or always to most of the question…you probably don’t.
Be a Better Listener – Be an Active Listener
It’s called active listening because though it’s something we imagine happens naturally – good listening isn’t passive; when we engage purposefully, we get far more out of our daily interactions.
Need to work on your social skills? Maybe start with your listening skills! Researchers at Louisiana State University tested students on measures of active and empathetic listening, and found that students with poor listening skills also tended to be students with lower scores on measures of general social skills, like emotional sensitivity, skills in verbal expression, tact and social sensitivity.2
You can become a better listener and enjoy better communication and more satisfying relationships – and you can get started today. Here’s how – start with the following take-home assignment.
Build Your Listening Skills - an Assignment
Need to work on your listening skills? Motivated to actually try to change and improve yourself? If so, read this list of 14 ideas and pick a couple to incorporate into your interactions over the coming week - and if you’ve got someone you feel comfortable talking with about your listening skills, ask them for feedback on how you’re doing and on what you still need to work on.
And then once you’ve mastered the first couple, come back next week and pick a couple more to try, and so on and so forth.
Nothing tells a person you’ve been paying attention like being able to paraphrase what they’ve been communicating. So keep your mouth closed and your ears open and pay attention until your conversation partner stops talking. When it’s your turn to talk, start out by paraphrasing their message in a couple of sentences.
2. Face your conversation partner directly and maintain eye contact
It’s easier to stay focused on your conversation partner when you stay visually engaged (so don’t let your eyes wander over to the TV or to other distractions.)
3. Offer genuine and encouraging verbal feedback
It’s hard to talk to someone who returns stony silence. Don’t interrupt, but toss in a few murmured hmms, ahas, or OKs every now and again to reassure your conversation partner of your attention and engagement.
4. Offer genuine and encouraging non-verbal feedback
Head nods and other forms of non-verbal contact also encourage your conversation partner and show your interest and engagement.
5. Fight hard to resist non-encouraging non-verbal feedback
Whatever you do, don’t look at your watch! Also avoid foot tapping, pen drumming or other nervous gestures.3
Certain types of body language reveal your inattention, hostility or boredom and certain types transmit interest and enjoyment.
- Avoid fidgeting, cracking your knuckles or crossing your arms in front of you.
- Instead, try smiling (when something’s funny), leaning into your concentration partner and tilting your head to show interest.4
6. If possible choose an environment that facilitates an open exchange of ideas
Don’t be like the boss who makes you sit in a low chair in front of her massive desk.
If seated, try to remove physical barriers between and find chairs that put you both at equal levels, arranged at a space apart that’s comfortable to both.
7. Get distracting devices out of your hands
Can you resist the impulse to glance at your phone or tablet during conversations - If you can’t (which is probably the case!) then you’ll listener better if you stow distracting devices before you engage in conversation.
8. Ask appropriate questions
Appropriate questions encourage your partner to keep talking and expand on what they’ve been saying. They also help you to understand the message of the interaction…and they keep you from talking too much!
9. Don’t talk too much
Good listening demands that close your mouth and open your ears. Try saying half as much as you want to and listening twice as hard as you usually do.
10. Get comfortable with silences
You don’t have to fill every space with words.
Sometimes allowing periods of silence lets each person think carefully about what to say next, without having to think while the other person talks.
11. Avoid interrupting or finishing sentences
You can’t listen while you’re talking. Finishing another person’s sentences cuts them short and shows that you’ve been thinking of what you want to say while they were still talking.
12. Pay attention and try to understand
Don’t just hear what you want to hear. Pay close attention to the words, the subtext, the tone of voice and the non-verbal signals - and add it all up to decode the true meaning of your partner’s words.
13. Avoid trying to problem-solve while listening
When listening just listen – and then think after. You can’t devote your full attention to a conversation as you also devise solutions to your conversation partner's problems.
14. Respond to the message, not the person
Don’t let your emotions hijack your ability to engage in meaningful conversation. Even if you don’t care for a person you’re speaking with, try to avoid letting this color your thinking – try reacting to the ideas, and not to the person behind them.5
Page last updated Jun 17, 2013