Nobody is born a good listener, but being a good listener is an important life skill. Effective listening skills are a vital part of improving your communication and preventing misunderstandings. If you want to improve your personal relationships, career prospects, and business communications, follow these five principles of effective listening:
- Be attentive
Most people do not pay enough attention to the person speaking to them, especially when they are distracted. If you are looking to improve your listening skills, practicing deliberate attention is a must. It is normal to get distracted, but if you are to truly listen, you must be deliberately attentive. Avoid environmental distractions such as noisy offices or outdoor settings, and go somewhere quiet. Put down your phone, turn away from your computer, and focus on nothing but the person talking to you to avoid missing essential details. Imagine you have to repeat back what the other person said – it really will get you to listen!
- Look closely at expressions and posture
Since words alone don’t always adequately convey a message, pay attention to the body language and facial expressions of the person talking to you. They convey emotional context and other vital information. These visual cues are clues to the speaker’s state of mind.
- Encourage the speaker
Listening is not a passive skill. Your body language can either encourage or discourage the speaker. To make sure the speaker communicates everything they intended to, make your body language encouraging. For example, nodding your head communicates that you are engaged, and slightly leaning forward communicates that you are interested. Avoid distracting or defensive gestures such as swinging your legs, crossing your arms, or fidgeting.
- Don’t make assumptions
If you want to make sure you get all the essential details, do not make assumptions. You may think you know what the speaker means, but you’ll make fewer mistakes if you don’t reach conclusions before they’ve finished speaking. If there is anything that you do not understand, ask questions. People have different ways of looking at the world and different ways of using language. It is easy for people to talk past each other instead of to each other because they hear the same words in different ways.
- Check your understanding with the speaker
Make sure you have correctly understood the message after the speaker is finished speaking. Summarize the message and ask if that is what the speaker meant.
To fully understand a speaker’s intended message, you need be an active, engaged listener. You need to pay attention to emotional subtext as well as literal meanings. When in doubt, double-check with the speaker. When you teach yourself to be a more effective listener, you teach yourself to be more successful in your career, and your personal life!