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6 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

In meetings, social gatherings, or one-on-one conversations, a mistake many of us tend to make is equating hearing with listening. But just because we can hear and comprehend what is being said, doesn’t mean we are actively listening. Listening requires a higher level of focus. Real listening means paying close attention not only dialogue, but how it is delivered. We take notice of things like choice of worlds, tone of voice, and and body language. This is how we interpret not only meaning, but intent.

6_ways_to_improve_your_listening_skillsNone of us are perfect listeners 100% of the time. But there are a host of things we can do to improve our listening skills, which will help us be more successful in all our interactions with others. We’ve chosen to focus on six of them.

  1. Create the right environment
    If listening requires focus, then you need to remove distractions that might affect your ability to hear or concentrate. Put down your smartphone, turn off the TV, and avoid answering calls. That way, others will know that you value what they have to say. If you’re unable to set aside an adequate time and space, reschedule when you can be fully focused.
  2. Be aware of body language
    If you’re talking to someone who keeps looking away, picking at their nails, or yawning, would you think they were interested in what you have to say? In conversation, refrain from fidgeting, looking around, or making facial expressions that convey displeasure or boredom. Instead, make eye contact, smile, and use appropriate hand gestures when expressing ideas.
  3. Don’t judge
    Part of listening is hearing others out without judgement. Don’t make pre-assessments based on how someone is dressed or what you have heard about them from others. They could be nervous or simply have a different communication style than you do.
  4. Ensure understanding
    If you need clarification, politely ask for it. Phrases like, “help me make sure I understand,” before asking questions can help buffer any perceptions of rudeness or indifference. Try repeating a statement in your own words, so your understanding can be corrected if it’s not quite right.
  5. Don’t interrupt
    We’ve grown accustomed to interrupting and being interrupted in daily conversation. Remember that what you have to say can wait, and will probably have more impact if you show some restraint. Set a polite precedent by listening to others as you would have them listen to you. It’s the golden rule of communication.
  6. Be genuine
    While you want to exhibit the outward traits of a good listener, make sure you’ve internalized those efforts. If your “listening” is more pretend than real, it will be obvious when you’re asked to respond. Go in with a genuine desire to understand someone’s message or point of view. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Clearly, listening and hearing are not always the same thing. You must be able to do both to make the most of family relationships, social situations, and workforce opportunities. After all, the better your listening skills, the easier it will be to use your hearing for one of its most vital purposes — communication.

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