Improve Your Listening Skills

How can I improve my listening skills? Read to find out the importance of redeveloping this skill.

Conversation is an art. People can be enjoyable to talk with, or they can be bores. A person is sought out for conversation, not because of the content of what they say, but for their ability to understand others. Good listeners are the individuals who are perceived to be charismatic, insightful, and even enlightened. These people make others feel special; they have friends and followers to spare.

Some people feel that good listeners are born, but as it is with most worthwhile activities. Listening is a skill that can be learned, practiced and perfected. It begins by educating oneself on the techniques, and practicing these in day to day interactions. The following exercises are a beginning enroute to becoming an expert listener.

1. The first skill is attending. This includes making eye contact, leaning toward the individual talking, and gently nodding the head to indicate approval and understanding. These behaviors suggest that the listener is following what is being said, and is receptive to the information

2. The second step is empathic responses. These responses are meant to identify the underlying feelings of the words that the speaker is uttering. When people are talking what they really want other people to hear is how a given situation makes them feel. Using this technique lets them know you are listening to what they are really feeling. Empathic responses begin with empathy starters:

"It sounds like you were.......(angry, sad, frustrated, excited, etc.)"

"You were feeling .........(Down, upset, thrilled, etc.)"

"What I am hearing is that you......(weren't appreciated, were letdown, wanted someone to care......)"

"You felt.........(Lonely, excluded, frightened, relieved, etc.)

These are just a few examples of ways to identify the feelings of the speakers. As illustrated by the parenthetical information, each of these statements can be used to clarify many different feelings. Use these often in a conversation. They are open ended and encourage the speaker to explore their own understanding of their feelings.

3. Paraphrase the content of what is being shared. Often a speaker will get so involved in talking, he/she will lose track of what they say. Paraphrasing in a concise manner can clarify for both the speaker and the listener. Paraphrasing is useful when it is not easy to decipher what the feelings are behind the words. This technique can help the person talking expand, and reveal what he/she really wants to express.

4. Ask questions. This technique is valuable but dangerous. If the wrong question is asked it can lead the conversation in a dead end direction. If a man wishes to talk about how hurt he is over a break-up, and is asked, "Why did you let that one go? She was gorgeous." The man will be further saddened by his loss, and will feel like a loser. In most cases the speaker does not want to be asked, "Why...." Questions that begin with "˜Why' generally offer some type of blame or judgment. Good questions might be:

"How did that make you feel?"

"What did that mean to you?"

"Where do you think you will go from here?"

All these examples encourage further exploration, and do not suggest judgment of any kind.

5. The last and perhaps the most important technique to be discussed, is silence. Silence makes people uncomfortable. It is laden with thought, and sometimes pain. Too often people are afraid to wait out the silence and jump in to fill it up with words. A good listener is comfortable with silence, and knows that it bears much emotional fruit. Sometimes waiting out several minutes of silence will give the speaker a chance to dig deep for a much needed insight. The listener needs to sit through the silence and let the speaker sort through the angst. Mastering the silence is an important achievement.

Practicing these techniques does not mean good listeners will never get to express themselves again. There is a time to listen and a time to talk. But being a caring person means a person makes an effort to listen when others are in crisis. These techniques can be vital in developing intimacies and supporting loved ones. Making a conscious effort to listen will enhance a person's ability to understand, insights into problems, and overall conversation skills.

© High Speed Ventures 2011