The great thing about terrific listeners is that they get meanings, not just the words, that are said to them. That’s a profound statement if ever there was one.
How do we get to the point where our own listening skills are that good? Here are a number of ways to improve.
1. Consciously set out to listen better
One of the first things you want to do is to push the conversation away from yourself. Switch your mouth off and reduce the amount you transmit.
2. Try to attend to the person speaking
Furthermore, try to focus on their agenda. What is it that they want to talk about? What might be the reason that they are choosing to say what they say, in that way, right now, in front of you?
3. Give the speaker space
If the people that you are listening to have space to express themselves, they are more likely to be authentic with you about the real issues they want to talk to you about.
4. Read between the lines
What are the underlying issues for the person talking to you? You have a greater chance of hearing underlying concerns if you’re listening out for them.
5. Watch and learn
Noticing speakers’ non-verbal behaviours is part of improving your listening skills. In addition to that you’re not just listening for the words that somebody tells you but also the tone. Sometimes you recognise a misalignment between somebody’s words and the eyes.
Similarly, if the words and tone of voice do not align and the speaker’s body language doesn’t either, you not only detect dissonance and misalignment but can also tell a lot about the person or their current attitude and circumstances. You’ll be in a better position to be empathetic and also to show that you’re trying to understand them more deeply.
As your listening improves, so your ability to paraphrase what you have heard gets better too. When you paraphrase and summarise what someone’s just said to you, it shows the person that you have heard and understood. By playing it back you confirm to them your understanding. This builds their confidence in you as a listener they can trust. You do not get that status with somebody overnight; it takes time.
7. Seek clarification
Part of being able to summarise and paraphrase well is asking if you are not clear on what somebody has said. It shows you are listening if you say, “Is this what you mean?” or “Have I heard you right?” or “Would you mind repeating that?” Then you will be with them 100%. Listening can never be anything less than this.
8. Encourage them
Given all these tips, you can now move onto what you can do to encourage the person you’re listening to. How can you jointly explore with them and build on the issues and ideas that you’re talking about together?
9. Use what you hear
Critically, if you’re going to improve your listening skills you have to know more clearly what to do with that you hear. In most human interaction there is a purpose behind the talking and the listening that goes on between two or more people.
10. Ask powerful questions
To improve your listening skills you also want to learn how to ask more powerful questions. Questions are questions. Powerful questions often elicit the comment, “That’s a good question” or “Wow, that’s a powerful question”. These sorts of questions can only emerge from you when you’ve been listening extremely well. Powerful questions are usually quite big and heavy in weight and are predicated on the quality of your listening. If you have not heard and understood, your questions will be lightweight and perhaps even irrelevant.
Simon North is the founder of career development and career planning company Position Ignition and the Career Ignition Club. The Career Ignition Club offers a range of career support tools, advice and e-learning materials for its members. Follow Simon North and his team on Twitter @PosIgnition
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