We have two ears and one mouth,

so we should listen more than we say.

Zeno of Citium

Conversation implies a two-way street. With both (or all) parties giving and receiving. Most people have no issue with speaking, so they can be heard, and hopefully understood. But listening? Listening is the other half, perhaps the better, and certainly the more difficult half, of all communication.

Listening is an art that must be intentionally practiced to improve. Unfortunately, most people rarely receive any real training in how to listen to other people properly. Most people give the appearance of listening, but are instead trying to bide their time and bite their tongues long enough to find an opening into which they can bound with their astute and erudite insights and information.

Improving your listening skills can enhance both your professional and personal life.

What do I know about listening?

A great deal. I listen to people all day long, and have for over 30 years. As a physician, and a coach, I have long held the philosophy that people know exactly what is wrong with them, given time and space to say it. My job is to be quiet, allow space, withhold judgment and let them tell their story in their words.

So, let us talk about why you should care, and then how to make some practical steps toward becoming a better listener, even in the most challenging of situations where it is most important.

Why should I work to improve my listening skills?

1. Become the master of a vital part of communication. Talking is only one side of effective communication. You also need to be able to understand the messages that people are sending you.

2. Relationship building. Listening is a critical part of letting your family and friends know that you value and appreciate them. Many conflicts can be avoided or significantly reduced if people would work to understand each other’s views.

3. Career advancement. Active listening will help you clarify your employer’s expectations and priorities so that you will be able to make the best use of your time at work. Expressing a sincere interest in what your colleagues have to say is paramount to good interpersonal work relationships.

4. Boost your emotional health. Many of the techniques involved in active listening are good for your mental and emotional health. By minimizing distractions while listening, you can enhance your own peace of mind. Learning to empathize with others is a powerful antidote against anger.

Tips for Effective Listening

1. Remove distractions. Give the speaker your full attention. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the subject at hand. If you are unduly tempted to start looking at your phone, put it away.

2. Make eye contact. Let the speaker know that you are indeed interested in what they have to say. Having an appreciative audience makes it much easier for people to express themselves. It will also help you stay alert.

3. Listen for the main points. It is often more effective focusing on understanding the key points that someone is making, rather than trying to etch every single word into your memory. Listen as though you were taking notes even if you are not.

4. Let them finish! Let people present what they have to say without being interrupted. Concentrate on what they are saying rather than working on formulating your own response.

5. Act like it is an interview. Most people think much faster than they are able to speak. You can use this to your advantage by finding ways to keep your mind engaged if it is starting to run ahead of the conversation. Analyze what the speaker is saying and draft questions that would help to clarify or elaborate on the main points.

Tips for Effective Listening In Challenging Situations

1. Encourage people to express themselves. Sometimes people are hesitant to approach a sensitive topic. Use open-ended questions and patient pauses to enable a more complete discussion.

2. Be empathetic. One of the best ways to understand what a person is really saying is to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their thinking and feelings.

3. Manage your own emotions. When you are listening to something that evokes strong emotions in you, you may need to detach yourself temporarily from your feelings. It is absolutely critical to distinguish between what is actually being said and your own assumptions and emotions attached to what is being said.

4. Prep. If you know that you are going to be listening to a presentation on a complex or unfamiliar topic, it may be helpful to do a little research ahead of time. If you acquaint yourself with the basic facts, you will be much more likely to be able to keep up with a discussion of more specialized information.

5. Verify the message. With complex or emotionally charged material, it is important to listen attentively and verify what the other person is saying. You can repeat back a brief summary of the message to be sure that you are both on the same page and working from a similar perspective.

Becoming a better listener can enhance your life and help you make more positive contributions to the lives of others. Enjoy the many benefits of improving your listening skills.

To your continued success!!

Photo Credit: amphalon via Compfight cc

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