Listening is a necessary skill if you want to be an effective communicator. Here are some tips that can help improve your listening skills and make sure you’re always in the loop.
Active listening is the ability to listen without interrupting, taking over, or judging. It’s a skill that can be built with practice. Here are 15 tips to improve your listening.
Tony Valdes contributes this guest article as an editor’s note.
Welcome back to the third installment of our three-part series on improving your listening skills. We established in the last part that listening is a desirable skill for males to possess. But how can we begin to put this capacity to use and develop it in ourselves? We may take active actions to overcome hurdles and develop new listening habits. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.
Because much of it is focused on understanding what makes excellent hearing and what does not, improving our listening abilities is quite simple to begin exercising. Remember that listening is not a passive activity, thus all of the tactics listed below, even those not apparent to the speaker, are active.
1. Pay attention with an open mind.
Prepare to listen to and analyze all sides of an argument. This does not imply that we must agree with what is stated, but simply that we must refrain from becoming defensive. Another way to think about it is to enter a conversation prepared to explore fresh points of view and ideas. If it helps, compare this to the scientific method we were taught in elementary school. Every viewpoint and point of view we come across when listening may be considered as a hypothesis that we, as attentive pseudo-scientist listeners, can investigate and test. And, just as third-grade science disproved my belief that wet paper towels could truly cause a lima bean to grow, our openness to listen to a different point of view may occasionally provide us with unexpected new insights.
2. Pay attention to the full speech without passing judgment or opposing it.
Refrain from allowing preconceptions and prejudices to keep you from hearing properly. At any one moment, we can only do one of three things effectively: listen, judge, or reply. Follow the steps in that sequence. You must first listen to the complete message before weighing your opinions against what has been presented and then responding. Allow each part to play out in its own time. You can’t be the judge and the listener at the same time. Our brains don’t operate in such tidy categories, but we may improve our listening skills by suppressing or deferring our need to make snap decisions.
Being conscious of your prejudices and then attempting to reason out why you feel this way is a fantastic method to prepare for this ahead of time. What “buzz phrases” or themes elicit a strong emotional response from you, whether good or negative? If you make a snap judgment and then speak too quickly, you risk missing a crucial portion of the message and humiliating yourself by leaping to conclusions.
3. Determine the message’s primary concepts and ideas.
If you are actively seeking for the key idea(s) of what is being stated, you will know if you are listening or merely hearing. This might easily go into a whole different discussion regarding message structure, but that isn’t the point. We are the listener in this situation, and if the message is well-constructed, our job will be made simpler, but that will not always be the case. Regardless of the speaker’s skill to craft a message, listening in such a manner that you can summarize what you gained as the key concept is a fantastic strategy (s). What are the common threads–the thoughts that seem to be woven throughout everything said? You may then share your summary with the speaker and validate (or change) your understanding if the context permits. This increases your confidence as a listener while also demonstrating to the speaker that you were paying attention.
4. Accustom yourself to the speaker’s look, demeanor, and delivery style.
Allowing a stereotype to impact your hearing, whether negative or favorable, is not a good idea. Despite the fact that it is against common wisdom to judge a book by its cover, we do it on a daily basis, both consciously and subconsciously. Not everyone is gifted with dashing good looks or the sartorial knowledge we discover here at The Art of Manliness, and appearance may be a key role. It’s something we’ll have to deal with. After all, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a Hollywood star like George Clooney. The sixteenth president of the United States may have had a humble appearance, but his words altered the path of history.
Aside from appearances, we should take some time to accept that various people have varied personalities, styles, and degrees of competence. As an English teacher, I have to evaluate these factors in every paper I mark, so I know how frustrating it can be to deal with things that go against your grain, even if they aren’t exactly “bad.” Although it is by no means a fast remedy, studying rhetoric may help you understand what the speaker does well, giving you something good to concentrate on and making listening easier. Similarly, understanding rhetoric helps you to pinpoint precisely where a speaker fails, removing phantom annoyances and helping you to detect and accept style and delivery flaws for what they are as you listen.
5. Overcome and avoid distractions
It just takes a little amount of distraction to divert our attention away from the task of listening. We all start off as excellent listeners. Consider how much a newborn learns in his or her first few years of life. Babies, on the other hand, do not attend school, study textbooks, or attend seminars. They just listen, and they do it so effectively that they soon begin to act like little grownups. However, as time passes, a sequence of undesirable behaviors emerge. Dr. Paine provided the following data with us: 90% of first grade kids could correctly describe the substance of the lesson so far when a teacher abruptly stopped in the midst of a lesson and asked them to do so. In second grade, the percentage reduces to 80%, then drops to 44% in middle school, and finally to a heartbreaking 28% in high school. To put it another way, no matter how nicely we start, our poor habits build rapidly.
We must learn to identify the challenges we confront if we are to become better listeners. Listening is difficult, and we are fickle–you’d be shocked how little it takes to throw us off track, particularly since most of us were already at 28 percent recall as teens. The following are some examples of barriers we must overcome:
- Noises from outside (beeping, humming, etc.)
- Psychological engagement (worry, self-consciousness, preoccupation, etc.)
- Situational factors (temperature, odors, lighting, visual distractions, etc.)
- Physiological circumstances (pain, hunger, fatigue, etc.)
- Distractions due to semantics (dialects, accents, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc.)
- Distractions from technology (the urge to check your phone, surf the net, etc.)
Half the fight is being conscious of what is distracting us at any particular time. When we find ourselves in a scenario where we are unable to overcome the impediment, there is no harm in informing the speaker and providing a remedy, such as a change of venue or rescheduling the talk. This implies that we wish to devote our complete focus to the task at hand. It’s also crucial to be mindful of those moments when we just don’t have the energy to accomplish it. We can’t always put forward effort in listening, any more than we can always put forth effort in lifting weights or doing crossword puzzles. It’s OK to acknowledge your limits and the need for relaxation. It’s also OK to say when we’ve zoned out or maybe misheard/misunderstood something. Poor listening affects everyone, and the speaker would be hard-pressed to judge you for acknowledging your error and making apologies.
6. Look for a personal connection or interest in the speaker’s subject.
Develop the mindset that there is always something potentially fascinating or value to be gathered, even if it means confirming that you will not discover anything intriguing or valuable. After all, if you’re going through the trouble, you may as well get something in return. It would take a Herculean effort for even the finest speaker to pique your attention if you’ve already decided you’re disinterested. Consider how much we would lose out on if we just did things that we were instantly interested in. Consider how useful apparently meaningless knowledge has been in the past. Finding connections and personal interests takes discipline, but keeping a positive attitude is crucial to being a good listener, even in circumstances when we would rather not listen.
7. Keep in mind that hearing does not always imply agreement.
Even with Dr. Paine’s lectures, I’ll confess that one of my biggest barriers to listening is my unreasonable concern that the speaker (or others) would interpret my silence as agreement. However, we must keep in mind that listening does not imply agreement. Listening does not need us to put our own ideas on hold; rather, it requires us to respect the perspectives of others. All that listening conveys is a desire to communicate–nothing more. “Listening requires neither submission nor agreement; rather, listening requires an open mind,” stated Dr. Paine, and “Listening really gives a strong tool to bring about change because listening is thinking, because listening is action.”
8. Quit trying to jump in and start talking instead.
Pay attention to the “turn taking” cues that are usually part of the conversation’s ebb and flow. We become better listeners when we resist the temptation to express our views and opinions as soon as they arise. Our ego is frequently at the foundation of this conflict: we assume that what we have to say is more essential than what others have to say. Regardless matter whether we mean it or not, interruptions devalue the message and are often impolite and disrespectful. It’s not that we can’t express ourselves; it’s just that we have to discipline ourselves to wait till the right moment. It’s just part of the social contract we have with others, and fulfilling it is crucial–let the other person speak, and you can expect the same politeness from them. Of course, interruption has its place and time, but there is no recipe for it. It’s up to you, but if you feel compelled to do so–or if an old habit resurfaces–a it’s good idea to apologize and admit that you’re interrupting; that awareness goes a long way toward repairing your purposeful violation of the other person’s right to speak.
9. Make it clear to the speaker that you’re paying attention.
Emotion is possible to listen without displaying any visual evidence of it, but no one wants a stone-faced audience. It’s just as vital to show that we’re paying attention–that we’re engaged with and/or interested in what’s being said–than it is to really listen. The goal is to provide the right kind of feedback. It also assists the speaker in fine-tuning his or her message to make it clearer and more engaging. Here are some things we may do to show people that we are paying attention:
- Nods of the head
- Forward leaning
- Maintaining eye contact is important.
- Taking notes when necessary
- Verbal affirmation (asking clarifying questions, responding the speaker’s inquiries when appropriate, and short affirmations like “mrm-hrm”)
In contrast, many of the things we do, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey to others that we are not listening:
- Our arms are crossed.
- Taking a step back from the speaker
- Making eye contact that isn’t steady
- failing to respond to the speaker’s queries
10. Be aware of both vocal and nonverbal cues.
It’s just as crucial to pay attention to body language as it is to pay attention to the words. Consider how difficult it is to discern sarcasm over the phone or in a text message when you can’t see the person’s face or body language. We miss out on a lot of communication when we can’t see another person’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and other motions. When you have the advantage of its existence, don’t neglect it!
11. Pay attention to quiet
An lack of words, like body language, may be just as rich with meaning as the words themselves. Silence, on the other hand, may mean practically anything. It might indicate a variety of emotions, including wrath (who among us hasn’t been subjected to the “silent treatment”), worry, fear, shyness, or contentment, to mention a few. It might be as basic as the need to think. To add to the confusion, silence may sometimes signify nothing–literally. And sometimes quiet is simply a pause; it’s a moment of relaxation, which is just OK. Big Dan T the Bible salesman argues in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? that the last thing you want is “air in the discussion,” which may be true if you’re a fast-talking door-to-door salesperson attempting to sell a product, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth for the rest of us. Silence allows everyone to relax and ponder. In fact, I’ve discovered that the individuals with whom I can have long periods of quiet are the ones with whom I have the greatest bonds. Try not to give in to the impulse to break the silence–a little breathing room in the talk isn’t going to harm. All of this should serve as a reminder of the significance of body language in listening–we listen with our eyes as well as our ears. The signals we need to comprehend both words and the lack of words are frequently found in a person’s body language.
12. Make a plan to react in some way.
What is suitable and what is not will depend on the occasion (don’t ask questions in the midst of a eulogy, men), but you should prepare to reply to a speaker in some manner. It might be as basic as nonverbal cues while the other person talks. It might be as simple as sending an email or handwritten note after the speaker has completed to express your thoughts, insights, or questions, but do something, even if it is tiny.
13. Inquire about the message to have a better understanding.
This is a nice method to demonstrate that you are paying attention to someone. I’m a high school teacher, so I’m aware that I’m prejudiced in this aspect, but I feel the capacity to ask questions is so crucial that we’ll spend the third part of this series discussing it in depth. Knowing the answer isn’t always more essential than asking a smart inquiry.
14. Take the time to hear what you’re saying to yourself.
We’ve previously discussed the importance of quiet in a discussion as well as the dangers of the bad habits we so easily fall into. However, our worst habits and the shortest periods of stillness are occasionally aimed at ourselves. Listening to oneself is a practice area where you have a limitless amount of possibilities to rehearse and the speaker (you) will be highly forgiving if you make a mistake. You’ll be better equipped to deal with difficulties like biases and mental “noise” if you listen to yourself. It will be much simpler to attend to the ideas of others if your thoughts are in order.
Dr. Paine’s assignments were entirely dependent on our ability to listen to ourselves. He would make it a point to highlight that we should turn off our phones, TVs, and music and find a quiet spot to be alone. However, removing external distractions is just half the fight. When it comes to listening to yourself, the internal chatter might be your worst opponent. Take some time to sit in quiet every now and then–daily if possible–and listen to yourself without judging or interrupting yourself. Allow the tornado of your thoughts as much time as it need to calm down. What is it that you want to say to you? Silence is an excellent technique to unravel the knots for those of us who find our own emotions (much alone the emotions of others) to be a mystery most of the time–a virtual swamp of hazy bewilderment.
15. Don’t act as if you’re paying attention or that you’re listening.
Learning to listen properly presents a unique difficulty in that we already know how to fake it. However, if someone believes you were paying attention when you weren’t, you’re courting problems. You are offending the speaker if he or she notices. If you are asked to answer in any manner, you will be caught off guard and possibly disgrace yourself. Even if you are able to get away with it, you will gain nothing except the reinforcement of poor behaviors.
Pay attention! Part 1 of the series: Mastering the Manly Skill of Paying Attention Part 2: 15 Ways to Improve Our Listening Skills Part III: How to Ask and Answer Good Questions
Listen to our podcast with renowned TED speaker Julian Treasure for additional advice on how to become a better listener (and speaker):
The “keys to charisma” is a list of 15 tips that will help you improve your listening. These are the basics for improving your listening.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are 5 ways to improve your listening skills?
A: This is a difficult question to answer, so Ill try my best. One way you can improve your listening skills is by making sure that what you hear actually goes in one ear and out the other without any distortion or interference from anything else around it. The second method would be to make sure you have good hearing aids if needed, though this should not replace being able to afford them because there are also ways of improving your quality of life for free! If that doesnt work then getting yourself some foam plugs could help too.
How can we improve our listening?
A: There are a variety of listening exercises that you can do. One way, for example, is to listen to music with your headphones on and avoid hearing other conversations at all costs. Another would be turning the volume up louder than usual so youre not distracted by outside noise while trying to concentrate on what youre listening too. You could also use an app like Shazam or SoundHound which will help identify songs playing around them in order better focus attention where its needed most.
What are the 7 key active listening skills?
A: 1. Describe what you hear 2. Identify the speakers emotions or feelings 3. Scan for repetition in speech 4. Sequence steps to get something done, e.g., What are your goals? How are you feeling? Do these have any effect on your health? 5-6) Ask questions about understanding someone elses thoughts, actions, and intentions 7) Ask follow up questions after a statement
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