Listen when people talk to you.
Somewhere during my time as a college student I taped a sign to my bathroom mirror so that each morning I would be presented with one word and one word only, “Listen!” It seems that even though my current and former jobs call for listening skills, I still struggle with this one. As someone who has to work at this maxim constantly, let me share a few dos and don’ts when it comes to listening.
Don’t interrupt. It’s a sure sign that you aren’t listening to a person when you cut them off. Many times this can happen when a conflict occurs, but it also happens when the listener feels like he or she already knows how the sentence is going to end. Even if you have an incredible ability to read the future, don’t interrupt.
Do give outward signs that you are listening. Nodding or shaking your head in affirmation, eye contact, a simple gesture or short verbal response is helpful to let the person know you are still there and engaged in what they are saying. Sometimes I find that simply leaning slightly towards a person shows that you are interested in what they have to share.
Don’t be thinking about your response. Often times we fail to listen because we have begun to think about how to respond to something the other person has said. This could again be because we are engaged in an argument with the person or perhaps we simply want to help the person solve a problem that is being presented. Resist the temptation to do this and stay in the present. When we begin to take our mind somewhere else, we fail to listen.
Do ask clarifying questions. Many times even when we have been actively listening and have heard what has been said, we miss the meaning because our own understanding of the world is different from the person’s to whom we are speaking. It is easy to let our own interpretation of what has been said get in the way. The only way to solve this problem is to ask questions in order to make sure we understand as fully as we can.
Don’t always try to solve others’ problems. Many times a person just needs to know someone is listening to them. Perhaps they are the type of person who thinks out loud, or maybe they have a problem that is not likely to go away and need to know someone else is there with them. Often you can help simply by lending a sympathetic ear.
Do make time for conversation with others. Listening skills are best learned through practice and the best practice is through conversation. Conversing with others allows you to listen and be listened to. The more you practice the better you will become.
What are your tips for improving listening skills?