If you have excellent listening skills, then you most likely have excellent conversational skills. Listening is an important aspect when having a conversation with anybody, whether it’s a family member, a friend, or a coworker.
However important it is, the art of listening is easier said than done. Usually, when you have conversations with someone, you are more focused on thinking of what you can reply to them while they are talking. That makes you not a very good listener.
When your focus is not on what the person you are talking to is saying, you might miss the necessary details they are trying to make you understand. Plus, they might feel hurt if you keep asking about the things they have already told you. If you put yourself in their shoes, if the person you are talking to is not listening to what you have to say, you might also feel frustrated and even disrespected.
Fortunately, you can quickly learn how to improve listening skills. Check this out, and you will know how to be a better listener in no time.
Listening vs. Hearing
Mastering the art of listening is essential for a lot of things. But first, you have to know the listening skills definition and how it’s different from hearing.
First and foremost, the hearing occurs naturally and automatically. It happens at all times for those who don’t have any hearing problems. Hearing is a physical process when the sounds enter your ears — for example, hearing the sounds of music or the honk of a car down the street.
On the other hand, listening skills requires more than just hearing the sounds. It requires concentrated effort and focus. Listening is both a physical and mental process. It includes hearing the story combined with paying attention as to how the story is told, the use of voice and language, as well as their body language.
Your listening skills will depend on how you perceive and understand the messages you are hearing.
Hearing is passive, while listening should be active. The latter requires you to be fully engaged in the conversation.
Good Listener vs. Bad Listener
Before you go learning the useful tips on how to be a better listener, you should be able to identify what differentiates a good listener from a bad one. This way, you’ll quickly know what to do and what not to do when you are listening to someone.
What Makes You a Good Listener
Listening is always a choice. It is a conscious effort on your part to fully be aware of everything happening during a conversation and understand the message. It includes taking points on several factors involved, such as the speaker’s tone of voice, physical posture, and facial expressions.
Good listeners are curious and open to new ideas. They even welcome opinions, thoughts, and feelings of the one talking.
What Makes You’re a Bad Listener
On the other hand, a bad listener can be consciously done or not. Sometimes, people’s listening skills are underdeveloped, which makes them poor listeners. They might not have the skills to pick up the message of the speaker correctly. Other times, a bad listener doesn’t want to listen to the person who is talking or the things they are talking about.
Some traits of a bad listener can also be intentional or not. For example, talking too much or interrupting the person who is talking to them. Although they might not do in intentionally, it can be a bit problematic and even disrespectful to the one talking.
The fine line between being a good listener vs. a lousy listener can sometimes be not malicious or intentional. There are reasons why you seem a bit distracted while someone is talking to you. You might be feeling shy or nervous, and you can’t focus on what they are saying. You might also be naturally energetic and talkative or spacey, and these can affect how well you can listen to other people.
The key is to focus on someone while they are talking. And by practicing listening skills activities, you will better know how to be a good listener.
9 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
People usually pay a lot of effort into their speaking ability. Sometimes, they tend to forgo mastering their listening skills, thinking that it isn’t necessary. However, being able to listen appropriately makes you more able to reply properly as well.
So, polish your listening skills in these simple, easy, and doable steps.
1. Be in the moment when talking to someone.
One of the simplest ways to master the art of listening is to be fully in the moment when you are conversing with someone. Don’t do it just for the same of looking like you are listening. Be interested and curious about what they have to say.
Don’t get yourself distracted while listening. If you have to do something while people are talking to you, ask them nicely if you can excuse yourself. Then, go back to them and let them know you’re ready to listen, and they have your attention.
Being in the moment while listening to someone also means you don’t only focus on their words, but as well as their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Considering these aspects will help you understand the message they are trying to tell you better.
2. Face the one you are listening to and maintain eye contact.
It is much easier to focus your attention when listening to someone if you are facing them. Some people can get easily distracted, especially if their eyes wander around. It can also be a challenge if the environment is a little distracting. It is where maintaining eye contact can help focus on the conversation.
After all, having eye contact is also an essential aspect of communication.
3. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Another way that can help you become an active listener is when you try to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. It will give you a much better understanding of what they are trying to tell you as well as their feelings.
Even if you haven’t experienced the things they went through, trying to put yourself in their shoes helps you hear them. Trying to feel what the speaker is feeling also helps you become more compassionate to them. And, empathy can help you become a good listener.
4. Relax, maintain eye contact but avoid staring fixedly.
If you want to know how to be a good listener, then you have to learn how to relax and be attentive during a conversation. You have to be present and give your attention and stay that way until the conversation ends. And while maintaining eye contact will help give you focus on the speaker’s words, avoid staring at them. It can often be a distraction for them and make them uncomfortable. So, you might want to rest your eye contact every few seconds.
5. Focus on what they are saying, not on what you’re going to reply.
Don’t listen just for you to voice your opinions. Don’t make it your show. Your focus when listening should be on absorbing the speaker’s words and their entire message as much as you can, and not on how and what you are going to reply after they’ve done talking.
If you need a little more time to phrase up your piece, then pause a little before you talk. Don’t spend your time listening to people talk while thinking about your opinion.
6. Keep an open mind and develop curiosity.
Aside from giving the speaker your full attention while they are talking, you also have to keep an open mind and free of any judgment. You should listen to what they have to say without criticizing them or their opinions. Avoid jumping into conclusions. Instead, try to understand what they are trying to convey.
Instead of being too eager to say your piece, you should be more open to receiving their message and understanding it.
7. Get a vivid imagination of what they are saying.
One of the best ways for you to be a good listener is to listen to the words the speaker has to say and try to picture out or imagine what they are saying. This way, you can get a more defined understanding of what they are trying to tell you.
Picturing out what the person is saying also helps you to be more focused on what they are saying and not on what you could say next.
8. Don’t interrupt while they are talking.
Again, a good listener focuses on the words the speaker is saying. To be a good listener, you shouldn’t interrupt while they are talking and try to impose your opinion or your “solutions” to their dilemma. Let them finish their piece and understand what they are trying to convey before you reply.
Especially when someone is trying to open up and tell you about their problem, be more sympathetic, and understand their feelings. Don’t interrupt and impose that you know how they are feeling. Instead, encourage them to open up more and complete what they want to say. And if you’re going to share your opinion or ideas, ask them first if they would be open to hearing it. Because sometimes, they might need someone to listen to them.
9. Only ask to ensure clarification when the speaker pauses.
Again, don’t interrupt while they are talking. If you want to ask for clarification, wait for them to pause, then you can ask. Also, when you try to clarify things, make sure than you’re not changing the topic. If necessary, take the initiative to lead the conversation back on track.
Examples of Effective Listening Skills
There are always aspects of the art of listening you can improve. But, here are some examples where you can say you have excellent listening skills.
- When you share your understanding about an unclear topic or questions during a conversation and ask them if you got it correctly
- When you notice that the one talking is a bit distracted, anxious, or uncomfortable while telling you something personal
- When you can notice the gestures or facial expression of the one talking to you
- When you encourage the one talking to continue and express their thoughts even more to complete the message or to clear their ideas and opinions
- When you can summarize the important parts or the critical points of the message they were trying to tell you.
- When you can ask open-ended questions such as asking them what and how you can help them better
- When you show attentiveness and focus while listening to the one speaking to you
- When you ask follow-up questions to clarify the messages they are trying to convey
These examples might be simple interactions, but the key to being a good listener is on how you focus and give your attention when listening as well as how you react and give your opinion after they’ve done talking.
In these cases, you were attentive and tried to understand the words of the speaker, including their facial expressions and mannerisms while talking. It means you are fully receiving their message and attentive throughout the conversation.
Things to Avoid: What Makes You a Poor Listener?
Aside from keeping the traits of being a good listener in mind, one of the important aspects of knowing how to be a good listener is to avoid behavior and habits that make you the opposite. Here are some poor listening traits that you have to quit or avoid doing.
Distracted or Bored Body Language
Not seemingly interested in the person talking or the things they are talking about can be disrespectful to the one talking. If you want to be a good listener, you are eager for information, and it should show in your body language as well.
Talking When It’s Not Your Turn to Talk
Having excellent listening skills means you know when to speak and when to listen. So, if someone is talking, you should wait for your turn and not take the spotlight from them. Otherwise, you might not get the full message they are trying to convey.
Not Paying Attention to the Talker
Not paying attention to the one talking is a behavior you want to quit if you’re going to be a good listener. You need to focus on what they are saying. Otherwise, the conversation would be useless.
Too Eager to Fill Silences
It’s the same as being talkative while someone is still talking. If you are too eager to fill in the gaps in the conversation, then most likely, you weren’t focused on listening. Instead, you were more focused on what and how you should reply.
Cutting Off Their Sentences with Your Opinions
A lousy listener doesn’t care if they get the complete message. They are just there to state their opinions, and it shows when you keep interrupting someone who’s talking.
Looking Too Eager for Your Turn to Speak
Another telling sign that you are a terrible listener is always having your focus on waiting for your spotlight to speak. In this case, you are not listening to what they say. You are just spending the time coking up your piece.
Abruptly Changing the Subject After They Said Their Piece
A bad listener doesn’t care what the other person is saying. You’ll know it when they change the subject abruptly without even acknowledging or responding to what you’ve said to them.
Joking Around When Their Talking Seriously
Another behavior of a bad listener is not taking up the cues in terms of what the conversation’s feelings are. They tend to joke around even when the one who is talking wants the discussion to be serious. When this happens, it seems like they don’t have the focus or have no intention of listening at all.
Being Judgmental and Critical
Excellent listening skills involves not only understanding the words being said by the speaker. It should also include taking the speaker’s feelings and opinions into consideration. Being too hasty in giving judgment and being too critical means it is not a good trait of a good listener.
Turning the Conversation Back About Yourself
Being a good listener is not all about you or your opinions. It’s about understanding what the other person is saying and their views. Don’t make it about you.
Being Too Quick to Disagree
Listening to someone is to try to understand their messages, and that includes their opinions. Being too hasty to disagree means you’re just in it to win an argument. You weren’t listening to what they have to say.
Not Considering Their Views and Opinions
Seemingly not considering their opinions and views makes you a bad listener. It shows that you’ve already decided what’s wrong and right and has previously dismissed what they are trying to tell you.
You will not always get it right. But, knowing that you have to improve your listening skills is a step in the right direction. The next thing you have to do on how to be a good listener is to start using these steps and apply these listening skills exercises. Soon, your listening skills will be excellent before you know it.