You hear all the time how important effective communication is. It’s critically important in your career and the same holds true for marriage or any long term partnership.
If you’ve read any of my other articles on this website, you’ll know I am a huge proponent of strong communication skills. I have seen over and over again how clear and effective communication has helped people in many phases of their lives.
Here is something that so many of us forget: listening is half of all communication.
It’s great to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly, but it’s just as important to have effective listening skills.
Let’s take a look at how important effective listening is and along the way, I’ll share with you 7 keys to effective listening. Read on to learn how to become a powerful listener.
Why Listening Skills Are Important
Unfortunately, many of us can only listen just long enough to form our own responses to what is being said, then we stop listening.
Why is that? Because we have all the information we need to share our own opinion. Needless to say, this isn’t effective listening, not by a long shot. Listening skills are vital in communication.
Deep down one of our greatest pleasures is feeling understood by another person. We can’t feel truly understood by another person unless we feel they are really listening to us. But once we feel that they are, it allows us to open up and share what we want to.
We can do this because the sense of someone seriously listening to us makes us trust the other person. I don’t have to tell you how much trust can help strengthen a relationship – it’s critically important. When you combine the listening with a nice dose of empathy, it creates an even stronger bond.
Being an effective listener also benefits the listener. When we take the time to truly understand the other person, it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what is being said and where the other person is coming from.
We’ve already discussed how the person speaking will feel better understood and want to trust us. This in and of itself helps us gain an ally and better partner, whether it’s in a personal or a business relationship.
But there’s even more upside to being a great listener. We learn more and open up our horizons.
It’s too easy to get trapped inside our little world and look at things through our own lens of the world. But when we listen to another person, we can learn something new and sometimes, see the world through a new set of eyes. How cool is that?
What Makes a Good Listener?
Now that we know why listening skills are so important, let’s take a look at what makes a good listener.
We all know how easy it is to pay partial attention to what someone is saying. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s the simple ongoing chatter inside our heads. Other times we are distracted thinking about another topic entirely. And sometimes we feel we’ve heard enough from the speaker to form our own response, so we are just waiting for them to take a break so we can get our 2 cents in. This isn’t being a very good listener.
Besides showing some of the keys to effective listening below, good listeners, in general, tend to be empathetic and listen with an open mind. They don’t allow their preformed opinions to color what they are hearing.
Good listeners are usually emotionally intelligent, so they are not only aware of their feelings but also perceptive of how others feel. They usually do a good job of asking follow-up questions – another good sign that they are listening.
They ask these questions as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of others. A good listener is okay with being uncomfortable. They can allow silence to go on while the other person thinks about what they are going to say and don’t get defensive. These are some of the traits of a good listener.
What Is Effective Listening?
Effective listening skills allow us to actively understand the information provided by the person speaking. Effective listening also has to do with showing a genuine interest in the topic being discussed.
Many times, it also includes providing the speaker with input and feedback along the way, as well as asking thought-provoking, insightful questions to gain a full understanding of the subject. Asking these incisive questions also shows the speaker that the listener truly understands what is being said and can empathize with the speaker.
Sounds like powerful stuff right? Read on for some of the benefits of effective listening.
What Are the Benefits of Effective Listening?
Effective listening will reward all parties involved in many ways, here are a few.
Effective Listening Builds Trust
This is probably the most important benefit of effective listening.
Remember, when someone feels like they are truly being listened to and understood, it’s only natural for them to begin to develop trust for the person listening. Or if the relationship already has a basis of trust, it only serves to strengthen it.
Productivity Goes Up
This is key in the workplace. Just think about how much more productive you could be in your job if there was all-around clear communication. That alone would help it shoot through the roof!
Add in working with a group of folks who are effectively listening and understanding each other and you’ve got a recipe for super productivity.
It almost goes without saying that if you are communicating with effective listeners regularly, it will forge stronger relationships. Again, the ability to feel like you are being truly heard and understood creates tighter and more meaningful relationships.
Greater Problem Solving
Remember that old saying two heads are better than one? What that means is that most of the time, 2 people can solve a problem better than one person on their own.
The logic is simple: two people can look at the same problem or challenge from different angles, different sets of eyes, and different experiences from which to draw on. When people are listening and understanding each other, the ability to solve problems is greatly enhanced.
Now let’s get to the really good part – 7 keys to effective listening.
7 Keys to Effective Listening
1. Be Attentive and Relaxed
Probably the most important part of effective listening is being attentive. Be present and at the moment with the person you are listening to.
Follow along with the words and thoughts they are sharing to build the full picture. Do your best to block out distractions, whether that’s street noise or your internal thoughts.
You don’t want to be attentive to the point of staring unblinkingly and not moving at the person while they are speaking. That can get unnerving. You want to temper your attentiveness with being relaxed as well. This will help the other person feel more at ease.
And speaking of staring unblinkingly at the other person. . .
2. Maintain Eye Contact and Face the Other Person
You’ll want to keep regular eye contact with the person speaking and have your body facing towards them.
Again, the regular eye contact doesn’t mean you are staring directly at them without batting an eyelid for minutes on end. It means, in general, you are keeping your eyes focused on them and their eyes.
You don’t want your eyes darting to your phone or your computer screen. That takes away your attention.
You’ll also want to have your body facing the other person most of the time. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating that you are paying attention to and listening to them.
3. Listen and Paint a Picture
While you are listening attentively, allow your mind to paint a mental picture of what is being said. This could be a literal picture in your mind or it may be more abstract involving concepts and ideas.
When you combine listening attentively with your mind creating a mental picture, it will help you gain greater clarity around what is being said, as well as build a more lasting impression in your mind.
4. Do Not Interrupt
One of the surest ways to create choppy communication is by interrupting.
Think about when you’ve been in a verbal fight with someone and you both keep interrupting each other to get your point across. Nobody ever gets to fully vocalize about what is upsetting them.
The same concept holds true here. Don’t interrupt the other person while they are talking. It conveys the message that you don’t care what they are saying and that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say
5. Ask Questions to Clarify and Understand
When the person you are talking to stops talking and indicates you can take a turn, you want to use your words to good effect. The goal here is to ask clarifying questions that will help you understand fully what the other person is saying.
Again, wait until the other person stops talking before asking your questions. Do not interrupt them to inject your point of view or ask off-topic questions. Asking tangential type questions can easily take the conversation down a completely different path.
We see this happen all the time during everyday conversations. Someone is telling us about an adventure they went on and mentions a restaurant they went to. Someone else then asks a question about that restaurant and BOOM, the conversation turns to a discussion of restaurants.
Don’t be that person.
6. Keep an Open Mind
Another of the 7 keys to effective listening is to keep an open mind. It’s important to listen with an impartial mind and not mentally judge the person speaking to you.
To truly hear someone and to give them a chance to fully share what they are talking about, you must keep an open mind. If they say something that gives you pause or raises some concerns, keep it to yourself for the time being.
Now is not the time to be forming judgments or making assumptions based on what is being said. Keep your mind open to allow them to speak freely and for you to listen fully.
7. Try to Feel What the Other Person is Feeling
Now we get to the part where you are working to empathize with the speaker. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see the situation from their vantage point.
To get a good depth of understanding, you’ll need to do your best to put yourself in as close to a mindset as the other person is. This isn’t easy, and it does take work.
If you’ve gotten to the point where you are feeling happy when they seem to be happy or sad when they are, you’ve done a great job of really understanding what they are telling you to the point of feeling similar.
As a reminder, listening is half of all communication.
Being a good listener takes practice and some work, but it’s well worth it. You’ll gain greater clarity with your interactions with other people you interact with. This benefits both your professional and personal life.
Imagine having clear communication with the people in all areas of your life. Sounds great, right?
Be sure to use these 7 keys to effective listening to greatly improve your communication and relationships with others.