How to Improve Your Listening Skills

Sections of this topic

    How to Improve Your Listening Skills

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Test – How Well Do You Listen Now?
    How to Really Listen to Others
    How to Make Sure Your Employees Really Listen to You
    Habits to Differentiate Good Listening from Poor Listening
    Additional Perspectives on Listening Skills

    Also consider
    Related Library Topics

    Test – How Well Do You Listen Now?

    Before you read more about how to improve your listening skills, you might
    get an impression of how well you listen now. Take this short online quiz.

    How Well Do You Listen?

    So based on the results of that quiz, what do you want to improve? Consider
    the many guidelines in this topic.

    How to Really Listen to Others

    © Copyright Carter McNamara,
    MBA, PhD

    Listening is a critical skill for all adults to have, to learn about others.
    Also, it is one of the most valuable tools for you to establish a strong rapport
    with employees.
    There are many books about effective listening skills. The following common
    guidelines can help you to accomplish effective listening in the vast majority
    of situations.

    1. Be sure you can hear the speaker. It is surprising how
      often people do not really listen to other people. It is just as surprising
      how often people do not realize that they cannot even hear other people. So
      always make this your first guideline in any situation for effective listening.
    2. Overall, attempt to listen 75% of time – speak 25% of time.
      This is one of the most powerful guidelines. Use of the guideline
      depends on your situation. For example, if you are making a presentation,
      you will speak more. Otherwise, ensure that the other person speaks more than
      you do – and listen to them.
    3. Adopt a culturally compatible physical posture to show you are interested.
      This can be a powerful means to show others that you are interested
      in hearing them. For example, you might lean forward and maintain eye contact.
      Whatever physical gestures you make, be sure they are compatible to the culture
      of the speaker.
    4. Do not think about what to say while you are also trying to listen
      to the speaker
      . Your brain goes four times faster than a speaker’s
      voice. Thus, your brain can easily leave the speaker behind. Instead, trust
      that you will know how to respond to the speaker when the speaker is done.
    5. Notice the other’s speaking style. Different people
      have different speaking styles. Do they speak loud or soft? Slow or fast?
      Are there disconnects between what they say versus what their body language
      conveys? Some people convey the central idea first and then support it with
      additional information. Other people provide information to lead the listener
      to the same conclusion as the speaker.
    6. Listen for the central ideas, not for all the facts. Experienced
      leaders develop a sense for noticing the most important information conveyed
      by their people. They hear the main themes and ideas from their employees.
      If you notice the major ideas, then often the facts “come along”
      with those ideas.
    7. Let the speaker finish each major point that he/she wants to make.
      Do not interrupt – offer your response when the speaker is done. If
      you do have to interrupt, do so to ensure you are hearing the other person.
      Interrupt tactfully. For example, put up your hand and say, “Might I
      interrupt to ask you to clarify something?”
    8. Reflect back and ask if you are hearing accurately. This
      is also one of the most powerful guidelines. Start by asking if you can reflect
      back, or summarize, to the other person after he/she has spoken. Then progress
      to where you can ask the person to summarize back to you what you have just
      said to him/her.
    9. Regularly share indications that you are listening to them. Those
      indications can be, for example, nodding your head, saying, “Yes”
      to short points that you agree with.
    10. Learn the art of supportive questioning. Coaching involves
      the use of powerful questions to understand yours and other’s perceptions,
      assumptions and conclusions. The coach must practice effective questioning
      skills to really understand others.
    11. Ask others to provide you feedback about your communication skills.
      Often, people do not know what they do not know about themselves.
      One example is the leader who prizes him/herself on strong listening skills,
      yet regularly interrupts others when they are speaking. Another is the leader
      who speaks only in conclusions, but does not share how he/she came to those
      conclusions. Thus, others do not understand the leader’s rationale.

    How to Make Sure Your Employees Really Listen
    to You

    © Copyright Carter McNamara,
    MBA, PhD

    Usually, your most frequent form of communication is spoken words. As with
    non-verbal communication, spoken communication is highly dependent on the particular
    culture in which you are working. For example, culture can affect how people
    speak about conflict, use humor, are honest and direct with each other, use
    silence and use certain wording. Consider the following general guidelines,
    which might be useful in a wide variety of cultures.

    1. Know the main point that you want to convey. Sometimes,
      people begin speaking with the hope that if they talk long enough, they are
      bound to say what they want to say. Before you speak, take the time to think
      about the main points that you want to convey.
    2. Convey one point at a time. That approach ensures that
      the listener is more likely to continue to understand you, rather than being
      overwhelmed with too many ideas delivered at too fast a rate. You might even
      find that you understand your own thoughts more completely.
    3. Speak too slowly, rather than too quickly. A good way to
      practice this guideline is to speak along with a news anchor when you are
      watching television. You will likely find that they speak much more slowly
      than you realize. They are professionals who have learned an effective rate
      of speaking.
    4. Vary your voice. Always avoid monotone. A monotone voice
      might convey to the listener that you are bored or controlled. It is likely
      to lull you and/or the listener into a stupor. Varying your voice takes practice,
      but it is well worth the effort.
    5. State your conclusion before describing how you came to that conclusion.
      Some speakers convey their recommendations or advice by conveying
      the necessary information to lead the listener to the same conclusions as
      the speaker’s. Instead, it is often more reliable to first state your
      point and then explain it.
    6. People speak more frequently and completely when they are comfortable.
      Therefore, get comfortable with the person to whom you are speaking. Skills
      in authentic expression can be useful in these situations. For example, if
      you are uncomfortable or confused, simply say so.
    7. Ask the listener to repeat the main points of what you just said
      to them.
      This guideline ensures that the listener is indeed hearing
      what you wanted to convey. Be tactful when asking the listener to repeat what
      you said. For example, say “I want to be sure that I made sense to you
      just now, so I would appreciate if you could tell me what you heard me say.”
    8. Ask others to provide feedback about your spoken communication.
      One of the most powerful ways to learn about yourself is to ask others for
      feedback. Therefore, ask others about how you might improve your speaking

    Habits to Differentiate Good From Poor Listening

    This information is from “How to Be a Better Listener” by Sherman
    K. Okum, Nation’s Business, August 1975, and from “Building a Professional
    Image: Improving Listening Behavior” by Philip Morgan and Kent Baker, Supervisory
    , November 1995. Only about 25 percent of listeners grasp the
    central ideas in communications. To improve listening skills, consider the following:

    Poor Listener

    Effective Listener

    tends to “wool-gather” with slow speakers thinks and mentally summarizes, weighs the evidence, listens
    between the lines to tones of voice and evidence
    subject is dry so tunes out speaker finds what’s in it for me
    distracted easily fights distractions, sees past bad communication habits,
    knows how to concentrate
    takes intensive notes, but the more notes taken, the less
    value; has only one way to take notes
    has 2-3 ways to take notes and organize important information
    is overstimulated, tends to seek and enter into arguments doesn’t judge until comprehension is complete
    inexperienced in listening to difficult material; has usually
    sought light, recreational materials
    uses “heavier” materials to regularly exercise
    the mind
    lets deaf spots or blind words catch his or her attention interpret color words, and doesn’t get hung up on them
    shows no energy output holds eye contact and helps speaker along by showing an active
    body state
    judges delivery — tunes out judges content, skips over delivery errors
    listens for facts listens for central ideas

    Additional Perspectives on Listening Skills

    Which Clearly Differentiate Good and Bad Listening

    The Secrets to Listening Well
    Listening Skills
    Empathic Listening Skills
    Across the Twilight Zone: Can You Hear Me Now?

    Talking Is Sharing, But Listening Is Caring
    Sure-Fire Ways to Ramp Up Your Listening

    Step to Great Listening

    Employees Listen When They Don’t Want to Hear

    Empathic Listening to Collaborate

    Is Critical in Today’s Multicultural Workplace

    Anybody Listening?

    Radical Leap to True Listening

    in The Art of Listening

    Your Listening IQ?

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Listening Skills

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which
    have posts related to Listening Skills. Scan down the blog’s page to see various
    posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of
    the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

    Coaching Blog

    Communications Blog

    Leadership Blog

    Supervision Blog

    For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:

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