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Stop talking, start listening! - 4 steps to improve your listening skills

Develop your listening skills

“Develop better listening skills.” “You are not listening to me.” “I already told you that.” Have you heard that before? Do you often ask yourself “can listening skills be improved?”, “how listening skills can be developed?”, and “why are listening skills important for effective presentations?”. If this feels like you, this article is made for you.

It is not easy to develop great listening skills but with focus and discipline, it can be effectively done. Hearing is a physical reaction, we don’t have control over it and we will hear about everything that is happening around us. To truly listen though, it will require a real effort, starting with eager. To really focus and shut down any other stimulation such as internal dialogue, you need to decide to listen.

1. Stop Talking, Start Listening

When thinking of interpersonal communication we immediately think "talking". “What should I say? How should I say that?”. Are you surprised to learn that the best communicator is not the one who can speak the most but the one who can listen effectively?

You can speak all day long, if you don't listen to people you will not be as successful as you could. Theodore Roosevelt said "We don't care how much you know, until we know how much you care". If you truly listen to others, you will be surprised to notice how much you are learning. You are learning new things, you are learning about your interlocutors, and you are learning about yourself.

Because being a good listener means asking for details and inviting the other person to talk further, being a good listener is not about interrupting with you your own story when a detail in the conversation makes you think of it. So the next time you are about to interrupt someone to share something that you already know, just step down, pause, and listen to the other person.

2. Listen to understand, not to respond

Are you guilty of the most common listening mistakes? Are you listening to respond instead of listening to understand?

When going home after a day of work, I am always amazed to see how fast my partner is to solve anything that happened during my day. But, wait, was I looking for answers? Was I asking for a quick solution to fix something? Or was I only trying to share some concerns or ideas? Are you like my lovely boyfriend, always ready to fix whatever problem people will share with you? What if your friends, colleagues, or family members were just trying to share something with you? What if they just need you to listen, perhaps to show empathy and understanding, and nothing else? Try this the next time someone is confiding to you; instead of coming with advice and potential solutions, only offer a friendly, kind, and non-judgmental ear. Feel free to ask questions to ensure understanding, but do not try to provide insights, unless being invited to.

3. Strengthen your observation skills

Your observation skills inform you about objects, events, attitudes and phenomena using one or more senses. By focusing less on yourself and observing your environment and other people better, you will discover many aspects that you have been missing until now. I am thinking body-language signals, new conversation topics, and other treasures that I let you discover.

Your observation skills will assist you in creating bonds and being remembered as someone who cares. In the end, actively listening means paying attention to everything.. To do so you will have to focus not only on the words but also on the body language and other communication signals.

4. Mastering the art of listening and developing the art of questioning

We’ve said it already, if you want to effectively listen, you need to be able to pay attention to the other person and to really focus on what this person is telling you. Simply nodding and sharing some “hum, hum” encouragements are not enough to show interest. You might already know that multitasking while being talked to is rude. If you get lost in your internal dialogue, it is just as bad as multitasking or turning your back to the person who is trying to engage in a discussion with you.

To be a great listener and to get the full meaning of the message that is being shared with you the best thing is to ask questions. Questions will allow you to show interest, it helps you ensuring understanding and it helps the other person to develop the idea, focusing on what’s interesting for you. Use different types of questions based on the situation: open questions, closed questions, rhetorical questions… Questions are part of the reasons why we call the art of listening ‘active listening’. By using questions you move from being a passive listener to an active one, engaged in the conversation. It makes it more interactive and vivid as it gives a rhythm, breaking the monotony of a monologue.

The most effective way for you to use those 4 keys is to select your favourite one, to focus on it for a couple of weeks to a month, until it becomes a new habit. Once managing effectively your first key, move on to the second one and so on. Be sure to let me know how it goes for you!

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