From the first time a person says “Mama,” she begins learning to speak.
Over the next few decades, she gathers knowledge and skill at public speaking, persuasive speaking, informative speaking, and any others that her profession or situations demand. Speech classes, counselor training, sales training are examples of the formal training available. But did you know that only about 2% of us ever receive formal training for listening skills? In the communication process, we are trained to be effective senders, but are left to figure out the receiving side by ourselves.
As you train yourself to be a good listener, it helps to have some clues to what to practice. The following are some that you might try.
8 Ways to Increase Effective Listening Skills
Are you expecting to be educated or to be entertained? Perhaps you are listening to understand how to help someone else with a problem of some sort? Understanding WHY you are listening enables you to adjust the type of listening required. (Refer to 5 Types of Listening – Training the Receiverfor types of listening).
Take the time to listen.
Except for perhaps social listening, listening is time consuming. It requires motivation to listen and effort to stay focused. Sometimes if you are unable to devote the time to listen, you can ask the sender to pick another time. But more frequently the situation dictates the need to listen at that moment, and you need to stop what you are doing and take the time needed.
Establish an environment for listening.
The more you can minimize internal and external distractions, the better you will listen. Closing the door to reduce hallway noise, turning off the TV, or sending the kids to a different room are simple, immediate steps you can take to ready your environment. But there are other physical and mental distractions that a good listener find a way to overcome them. Your cell phone is perhaps the most common and noticeable physical distraction. If you are texting or checking Facebook, your sender must compete for your attention. The temperature in the room, an animated group of people a short distance away, a poor sound system can be physical distractions. But mental distractions, such as the throbbing in that toe you stubbed, or wondering if you remembered to turn off the lights, and often more unpredictable and insidious distractors.
Let go of preconceived ideas; listen objectively.
Do the speaker’s ideas contradict what you were expecting or the way you believe? You know more about the topic than the speaker? Do your speaker’s visual aids seem amateurish? If you are judging, if you are talking to yourself about your point of view, you are impeding listening.
Watch speaker’s body language.
Much can be conveyed through the speaker’s mannerisms, enthusiasm, and voice inflections. Good listeners interpret what the speaker means, what is implied rather than what is said. If your co-worker says, “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine,” you may need more than their words to interpret the truth.
Don’t let your mind wander. Focus on what is being said rather than how you will reply. A person thinks at a rate of 400-800 wpm; most speak at only 100 wpm. Make effective use of the difference in the time to think about and paraphrase what the speaker is saying. If you find you have a tendency to interrupt, perhaps you are forming responses rather than listening.
If taking notes, keep to the main points.
Listen for main points, key ideas, and facts. If you are focused on getting everything down a paper, you are too busy writing to be evaluating and analyzing the message. Don’t assume you need to remember every word. You need just the main points and some supporting facts.
Use positive responses that encourage rather than interrupt speaker. Silent responses, such as nods or smiles, tell your sender that you are listening. Asking probing or clarifying questions tells the speaker that you are trying to understand and absorb the message.
Effective communications rely on both the sender and the receiver. Having a skilled and knowledgeable speaker is only half the equation. The listening skills and openness of the receiver is equally important.
We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. — Carl Roger
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