There must be a good reason why we were given two ears and only one mouth. We can be better at communication if we made more effort to listen than to speak all the time.
A typical communication process entails encoding a message and sending it through a medium which the receiver decodes and responds to. In simple terms, listening well to decode the message is as important as encoding the message articulately. Still, most of us focus on improving our spoken communication ignoring listening skills.
Developing listening skills involves a lot of patience and practice. In current times, listening skills have become even harder to develop. We have so many avenues to express ourselves and listening to what others have to say is not mandatory. Our attention spans are shorter than ever, thanks to instant online mediums. But listening continues to remain one of the important skills to possess.
Barriers to listening make us poor listeners. And the first step towards becoming better listeners would be to take care of these barriers. The barriers can be external or internal. External barriers are caused due to distractions in the environment around the listener. These barriers can be a noisy room, poor acoustics, uncomfortable seating, visual distractions or people moving around in the room. In case of cultural differences, a person’s accent and vocabulary also might become barriers.
Internal barriers come from within the listener and need more effort to overcome. Disinterest in the subject is the most common internal barrier. We tend to simply hear and not listen in such situations. Prejudice or bias is the second most common barrier. We jump to conclusions that a woman might not make sense talking about economics or a junior in office would not say anything you don’t know already.
Impatient listeners have short attention spans and find difficulty in being good listeners. They are in a hurry all the time that interferes with their listening skills. Fatigue, anxiety, anger are a few emotional barriers that mar effective listening.
Once you understand the barriers, here are a few things that you can do to get better at listening.
Practice Active Listening. Active Listening involves putting aside your prejudices and interests and rising above external distractions. You need to make a conscious effort to be attentive to not just the words but also the to the emotion behind them. When you listen, just focus on that.
Respond to the speaker. Give out verbal and non-verbal responses that you are listening. Use your body to nod occasionally, maintain eye contact and keep an inviting posture to let others know that you are actively listening. Wherever possible, make verbal affirmations like, “Yes”, “I understand”, “I appreciate it” to encourage the speaker.
Suspend judgement. This is important to overcome a lot of internal barriers. We generally decide in advance whether want to listen to the speaker or not depending on who the person is or what we think of the person. Or we judge by the just the first couple of sentences they say and presume it’s not important.
Listen well to speak well. Good speakers are generally good listeners too. They take time out to listen to others and understand their perspective. Only then does their response make sense when it’s their turn to speak.
Now that you understand the importance of listening, you may want to remember the following to help you in your journey towards becoming better listeners:
Now that we know that listening skills are important to succeed in life, it is worthwhile to practice listening. Here are 5 exercises to begin your journey to good listening skills.
Don’t interrupt. Listening skills is being able to shut up and listen. Make it a rule listen to the other person fully before you open your mouth to talk. Restrain yourself till the other person has finished.
Acknowledge listening. Practice making others confident with your body language that they are being paid attention to. Lean over a little towards the speaker and nod to show that you are listening.
Maintain eye contact. Try to look at the person every time you make a conversation. This should help you focus only on what the person is saying. Stop your mind from getting distracted by things around.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Make conscious effort to listen to people and not shut your mind out just because you think it is not worth it.
Summarise. Wherever possible, try to summarise what you heard and check if you got it right. This will help you figure out whether you often make mistakes while comprehending what others say. It will also help understand how much you can retain and remember what you listened to.
The exercises mentioned above should help you become better listeners. Remember to put them in practise every time you talk to people and you will succeed in any sphere of life. It should take some effort and lots of patience to achieve your goals, but it is going to be beneficial in the long term.
These are general guidelines to improve your listening skills. Watch out this space to learn how to effectively use them in different scenarios.