In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Active listening helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy at home and work.
Use these 6 steps to improve your listening skills:
Maintain eye contact. Listening first begins with attentive focus on the speaker. Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances.
Visualize. If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
Show that you’re listening. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention such as nod occasionally, smile and use other facial expressions.
Resist the urge to interrupt. It can be tempting to finish someone's sentence to show you comprehend their message, but it can come off as rude. Listening builds trust. If you interrupt someone--even with good intentions--it denies the speaker the opportunity to fully express her feelings or opinions. To ensure that you won't interrupt, always pause for a few seconds before responding.
Respond, don't react. Rather than listening with the intent of speaking, listen with absolutely zero intention other than discovery. Don't react to what you hear, but respond to it at a later time such as to ask clarifying questions.
Ask thoughtful questions. I’ve found that the best listeners make a regular practice of asking thoughtful questions. When you reach a pause in conversation, ask a question that clarifies a previous point or helps to dig deeper into the topic of conversation. For instance, instead of asking, “So did you do what I suggested?” say: “Tell me what you decided to do.” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask: “How do you feel about this?”