Tuesday Tip: The Vital Skill of Listening {Including 6 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills}

What is the most powerful antidote to grief and pain, the key to healing and the key to progress that doesn’t cost a thing? Listening.

Listening is a vital skill that can always be improved and listening is the number one way to improve your relationships. The truth is that people start to heal the minute they feel heard. Here are 6 ways you can improve your listening skills.

Be Present.  Listening is a gift that doesn’t require any money but it does require that you be present. Devote the time and energy necessary to have a conversation. We all have been part of a conversation where it quickly becomes obvious that the person really isn’t listening to us but is changing the channel on the tv at the same time or looking at their phone. It is obvious and you can tell. If time constraints or other aspects of life do not permit you do devote the time necessary to listen, simply express that to the person and set up another time when you can listen. Example: “I need to take your sister to school right now, can we talk when I get back?”

Be Focused. Listening can be hard work and we are easily distracted. Focusing is required to be able to block out the world of distractions including the urge to check your phone or be preoccupied with what you are going to cook for dinner. While it is normal to have your mind wander and be distracted– it is a skill that you can develop to focus and listen to what someone else is saying.

Be Curious. One way to keep you focused and engaged on the conversation at hand is to remain curious. If you go into conversations with curiosity and genuine interest in what they are trying to communicate, the person you are communicating with can feel it and respond.

Be Aware. According to a study done by Ray Birdwhistell back in 1970, he determined that 35% of communication is verbal or the words we use and 65% of communication is nonverbal or the facial expressions and body language. Basically what that means is you communicate more with your posture and body language and how you say things than what you actually say. So, you need to make sure you are aware of not only those nonverbal expressions of the person you are listening to but what you are portraying as well. Are you maintaining eye contact? Do you have a tone of voice that exhibits that you care? Are you facial expressions demonstrating that you are invested in the conversation? Good listening requires that you are aware of how you and the speaker are communicating.

Be Open-Minded. It has been said that we can only do one thing effectively at a time: listen, judge, or respond. If you are already calculating a judgement about what you are are hearing, you are no longer listening. It is imperative that you listen to the entire message. Be ready to hear and consider all sides of an issue. This does not mean that you have to agree with what is being said, but after you listen to the message, then you can weigh your thoughts against what has been said, and finally respond. A lot of times when you are listening you can put a lot of pressure on yourself to have a response but it is important to know that it also okay not to have an immediate response and to say, “I’m going to need to think about that.”

The truth is that listening does not mean agreement. Listening does not force us to silence our own opinions, it just asks us to show respect to the opinions of others. It actually communicates a willingness to communicate and to keep an open-mind.

Be Reflective. The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening. You can show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be so excited! That sounds awful! I can understand why you would be confused.” Reflection can also be done through just a nod or an appropriate facial expression or an occasional “hmmm” or “uh huh”. Paraphrasing what you are hearing also helps to show that you are listening: “So, you thought you would be able to get a second interview but then they never called you back? That is disappointing.” Reflect what you are hearing or the feelings you are perceiving so that you can make sure the message you are receiving is what the speaker is intending to send. When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions or offering advice unless they ask you for it. Listening doesn’t require you to provide solutions but if somewhere during the conversation, you do have a brilliant solutions, simply ask the speaker’s permission: “Would you like to hear my ideas?” Listening simply requires you to be reflective of their thoughts and feelings rather than inserting your own ideas.

So, today’s Tuesday Tip: Make a goal to improve your listening skills. It is the number one way to improve your relationships and although listening doesn’t cost any money, learning to listen is the best investment you can make.

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