Nobody ever got into trouble for being a great listener, so in this post, I'd like to show you how to improve your listening skills with 3 simple techniques you can start using right now.
Whether you use this for business or in your personal life, with a little bit of practice these techniques will make you a better conversationalist, give you a solid framework to improve your confidence at those awkward networking events and probably make you more endearing to your fiends and loved ones — although I can’t promise anything, of course.
Feel free to practice these techniques and simply observe what happens. Maybe they'll work for you, maybe not.
So let's dive in.
How to Improve Your Listening Skills
Resist the urge to speak
Most of the time when we're listening to somebody, we have ideas and thoughts about how we can respond in order to keep the conversation going and avoid any awkward silences. If you listen to most conversations, you'll hear patterns of one person speaking, then the other, then the other and so on. In fact, a lot of the time our desire to contribute often means we interject or begin speaking before the other person has fully completed what it is they wanted to say. This can lead to the conversation moving in a different direction to where it originally began and can cause a subtle tension that both parties can feel but cannot quite understand or put their finger on.
The most common of these responses is a simple “yeah” or “aha” or “mmm” to let the other person know you are listening and it is okay for them to continue.
Instead of responding with anything verbal, the next time somebody is talking to you, resist the urge to speak and just let them talk until they are finished. Remember, they will try and avoid awkward silences too, so they will probably keep talking for a while, almost finish several times and continue on once they realise you're not going to interject or pick up. You might be surprised what comes out if you just give them the time and space to really finish what they started.
If you absolutely must, just nod as they are speaking to let them know you are still paying attention.
Ask lots of questions
Some conversations can get uncomfortable very quickly if both parties feel a little out of their depth or awkward for whatever reason. We’ve all heard them before.
“So, how’s school?”
Short conversation and nothing has really been revealed or discovered. A lot of the time, the asking party might pick things up and start telling a story about how their work is going or something that happened to them recently. The student who answered “good” may feel like the initial enquiry was not genuine to begin with and could possibly clam up even more when asked another question.
One way to overcome any awkwardness is to simply ask a series of questions to give the other person the opportunity to relax a little and open up.
Here’s the same conversation with this technique being used.
“So, how’s school?”
“What’s your favourite subject?”
“Why is science your favourite subject?”
“Because Mr. Smith is funny and let’s us do all sorts of crazy experiments.”
“What’s the craziest experiment you’ve done recently?”
“Well, a couple of weeks ago, Simon and I…” and all of a sudden the student is revealing something about themselves and you’re learning a little about their world, which after all, is the point of a conversation, right?
If you’re not sure how to ask questions without sounding like you’re interrogating someone, here are a couple of guidelines.
Ask these types of questions:
- “Tell me more about…”
- “Why is that?”
- “Give me an example”
Also, for every three to five questions you ask, feel free to offer something from your own life that is relevant, otherwise things can get a little creepy.
The final technique I’d like to share with you is particularly useful when dealing with any type of conflict or misunderstanding. I call it “active listening” and it’s simply a matter of repeating, or reiterating what the other person has said. So it doesn’t sound weird, I like to preface it by saying something like “so let me just make sure I’m on the same page” or “let me just make sure I haven’t missed anything.”
Then, ideally, you should try and repeat back what you’ve heard but in your own words.
Here’s an example:
Roger asks Jan what kind of holiday she’d like to go on. Jan responds “I’d like to go to a tropical beach somewhere and just plonk for a week, not go anywhere or do anything and just read books, swim and eat great food.”
Roger could then reply “okay, so just to make sure I’m clear about this, you want a relaxing holiday with warm weather, a great beach, no responsibilities and the opportunity to just do exactly what you want, when you want and have access to great food at the drop of a hat. Did I miss anything?”
This will clearly demonstrate to Jan that Roger was listening and actually heard what it is she said rather than just seeming like he was listening but not taking it in.
This is a very effective technique and can be used in business dealings, personal relationships and in a student/teacher environment.
I hope these three techniques help you improve your listening skills and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.