Listening Skills: the What, the Why, and the How

Listening Skills: the What, the Why, and the How

What is it?

We all have heard about effective listening and how vital it is to our communication, but do we really know what effective listening actually means and includes?

How important is effective listening? Is it about the concentration of the person? Does it have to do with this thing where people wait for their turn to speak in conversations? What’s with the need to put the best argument on the table? How would someone know if they are an effective listener? How can someone improve their listening skills?

These are some of the questions which might arise in your mind and certainly have been pondered upon by researchers, scholars, and organizations across different fields for the past few decades. Why? Because the benefits of listening have created a door of success for everyone who tried to incorporate this skill in their life.

Let’s start understanding this everyday skill from the unique perspective of one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Carl Rogers:

“When someone gives us the chance to talk about what has happened to us and how we feel about it, we start to realize the best way to change our thoughts and behaviors”

This highlights that the window of listening provided by others can help us to create a positive change in ourselves and to take this a little deeper. It also means that this positive change also helps us to understand the importance of listening as well as help create solutions to problems. 

Listening Skills: the What, the Why, and the How

Why is it important?

Well, the advantages of effective listening are not something new and you might already know some of them, Listening with the focus always adds your knowledge. Listening helps with people and situations and anyone’s chances of becoming likable, friendly, and agreeable. People also prefer being in the company of sympathetic listeners rather than garrulous speakers as everyone wants to be heard and understood, rather than lecturing and dominated. And at last, listening helps to see opportunities that might not be visible with just hearing.

So, do you think you are a good listener? It’s an easy question to answer if we start observing our conversations with different people or just take feedback from our colleagues or friends.

 Let’s try the first approach of observing conversations.  Think about the few last conversations you had and try to count how many times you found yourself interrupting others, zoning out, or losing track of the conversation.  Additionally, ask yourself “Do I actually understand what the other person in the group was talking about?” or “I usually miss their point in my hurry?”. 

It’s completely fine though if you are still confused about your answers to the above questions, the key component here is not to have crystal clear answers but to ask yourself these questions.     

There exists one common assumption about listening skills, and that is “Some people are good listeners and some people aren’t”.  To be honest, that’s not entirely correct. The fact is we all are selective listeners; in some situations and contexts we listen effectively, and in some situations, we don’t. It’s our tendency to listen effectively to novel situations and stimuli, but not that much into situations which we are quite familiar with and are kind of mundane for us. Think back to the first time you had a conversation with some friends and compare your listening to a recent time when you got comfortable around those friends.    

Listening Skills: the What, the Why, and the How

How to boost listening skills?

Nevertheless, we can still improve on our current skills and abilities, and use a few of these tried and tested means of enhancing our listening:

  1. Using verbal and non-verbal encouraging signals: Simply nodding, and saying, “Uh-huh” or “I see, ” helps to maintain the flow of conversation while sending a message of being interested in the conversation. Even silence works well as it provides a few moments for the other person to get their thoughts organized before continuing the conversation. 
  2. Checking assumptions: We all have different perspectives and assumptions that sometimes change the understanding of that conversation. So try to keep checking your assumptions by asking the speaker, “I am sorry, but do you mean by that in this situation?”. The key here is to be as honest about your possible assumptions and seek clarification from the speaker. 
  3. Limiting  “I”: How often do you use sentences starting with “I” in conversations? This basically helps to remove the self-centered aspect of yourself which can hinder listening. Try to limit them for a few days and see if it helps with effective listening not. 
  4.  Rephrase:  Try rephrasing your conversations.  This basically means expressing something in a different way, usually for the purpose of clarification. The key is to rephrase the sentence as you understood it, instead of repeating it. This also helps to convey the message that you are interested in the conversation and actually are listening to the speaker which furthermore increases trust and understanding.
Listening Skills: the What, the Why, and the How

Quick challenge: Think about the people you work with, or interact within your social circle, and identify if some of them are from a different generation. Now pick someone from another generation that you have struggled to connect with in the past and think about how you can solve this problem using listening skills.

Listening is an important aspect of everyday life and conversation. Effective listening helps to create the bridge for successful conversations, and using a few simple strategies can help to work on these skills. The best thing is you can practice every day, so best of luck and happy listening!

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