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Five Tips to Become a Better Listener

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Imagine being at best 40% effective at something. This sounds pretty dismal! Research suggests that we remember maybe two-fifths of what we hear. How can this be true considering that listening is one of the most important skills you can have?

First: where is this data coming from? According to a piece from National Geographic that covers a University of Iowa study:

[Participants where asked to] recall sounds, images, and objects after an hour, a day, and then a week. Auditory recall came in last, lagging far behind the tactile and visual memories, which the students recalled at about the same level. The longer the time that elapsed, the greater the gap became, with auditory memory lagging farther and farther behind the other types of memory.

The evidence is clear: listening is hard!

Improve your Listening Skills

© Flickr user Craig Sunter

When you become a better listener, you improve your productivity and your ability to influence, persuade, and negotiate. This will enable you to manage conflict better and avoid misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success.

Real listening is an active process that has three basic steps:

  • Hearing – just listening enough to catch what the speaker is saying. If you can repeat what has been said word-for-word, you have heard the message.
  • Understanding – taking what you heard and understanding it in your own way. This is when you ask questions of yourself and others, or when you restate the idea in your own words.
  • Judging – thinking about whether the message makes sense. This is where you ask yourself if you believe what you heard.

Notice that real listening is an “active” process–the way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is when you make a conscious effort to not only hear the words that someone is saying but to also understand and judge the complete message being sent.

So what should you do to become an active listener?

  1. Attend closely to what’s being said and to the speaker’s non-verbals
    Look at the speaker directly and give him your undivided attention. Make a conscious effort to not only “listen” to the speaker’s body language, but to also “focus” your mind and put aside your distracting thoughts.
  2. Watch your non-verbals
    Non-verbals can encompass everything from facial expressions, to posture, and to where you sit at a table. Leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, and nodding are ways to show that you’re interested in the conversation. Your non-verbals are usually more telling than your verbals.
  3. Allow others to finish speaking before taking a turn
    Interrupting frustrates a speaker and limits your full understanding of the message. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren’t listening, even if you are.
  4. Listen for main ideas
  5. These are the most important points that the speaker want to get across. They may begin with “My point is…” or “Here’s the most important part…”

  6. Repeat back what you’ve heard to give the speaker the opportunity to clarify the message.
    Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing: “What I’m hearing is,” and “Sounds like you are saying…” Also, makes sure you ask questions of the speaker to clarify what he means.

In order to be successful in the workplace, you must be able to write, speak, and listen effectively. Listening is the most important of these, because it’s so universal. Listening is also the most difficult skill to do well. Practicing active listening enables you to become more productive and better able to handle the conflicts that arise.

Listen carefully! Listen up! And when you’re ready—speak to show you’ve understood.

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Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey, CEO and founder of Making Performance Matter, collaborates with organizations to convert their strategy into action. She takes global organizations to the next level by developing customized "people strategies" that bring their business strategy to life and enabling them to optimally execute it.