Communication is a two way street and the listener plays a very important role in facilitating communication. Often with good listening skills you can extract more information and provide comfort and support without verbally saying anything at all. Listening skills are essential in so many professions. Counselors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, and clergy all need to have sharp listening skills in order to do their jobs effectively. Actually, all professions and individuals can benefit from good listening skills. Listening, like any skill set, is something that you need to practice and perfect. When individuals feel heard, they feel validated and understood. Actively listening to someone is a way of showing them respect and letting them know that their story and experience matters. Here are some tips to improve your listening skills:
Pay attention to nonverbal body language– When you are listening make an effort to reflect emotion with your face: tilt your head, raise your eyebrows, smile, and open your eyes wide to provide nonverbal feedback about your speaker’s message. Nod your head to encourage your speaker to continue talking and stay still or look down when you want your speaker to slow down or stop.
Be aware of your expressions- Try not to show judgement with your facial expressions. If you know that you are going to be talking about a difficult subject, try to prepare yourself in advance for what your speaker may say. Try to express compassion, interest, and patience with your face. Practice reflecting these emotions in the mirror so you see how you look when you want to convey these messages. If you do not have a good “poker face” try to develop one.
Summarize and reflect what your speaker is saying– You can achieve this by creating a question or statement out of the last few words your speaker says. If your speaker says: “I feel like I am going crazy, I can’t take living at my house anymore, every day I feel so stressed and angry at home.” Then you follow by saying – “It sounds like home is an environment that is creating a lot of stress and anger for you.” This technique makes your speaker feel understood and validated and will encourage him to provide additional information.
Confirm you are getting the right message– Try saying, “What I hear you saying is…….. am I correct?” Avoid making assumptions and check to make sure you understand your speaker.
Be aware of personal space and other cultural differences– Different cultures and individuals have different comfort levels regarding personal space. Do not overcrowd your speaker. Do not feel offended or disrespected if your speaker avoids eye contact with you. Pay attention to their nonverbal cues and body language and ask your speaker how you can make him feel more comfortable.
Do not interrupt- Allow your speaker to finish his statement. If you catch yourself interrupting, apologize. If you have to end the conversation early, apologize and schedule a time to continue the conversation.
Put your technology away- Avoid having conversations when the television or radio is on. If you need to have some background noise, try a sound machine or instrumental music. Put your phone and computer away too. You want to give your speaker your undivided attention.
Less can be more– You do not always have to respond, offer advice, give an opinion, or defend yourself. You can say a lot with nonverbal communication and body language. Sometimes in a conversation, fewer words are better.
Be courteous– Whether you liked your speaker’s message or not, thank them for their time and the information. Show respect with your language. Ask for feedback; ask if you could have done anything that would have improved the conversation.