Listening skills are needed for success in all areas of life, including career, business, dating, family and personal relationships. The ability to listen properly and truly understand what another person is saying is a valuable skill that enables you to communicate more effectively and prevent misunderstandings. Whether you want to improve your career prospects, business communications, dating skills or personal relationships, good listening skills can make all the difference. Here are the five principles of effective listening:
Focus Your Attention
Studies have found that most people only pay attention to about half of the words they hear, which is partly due to the mind’s natural capacity for being easily distracted. Mental chatter and environmental distractions can make it difficult to stay focused on the speaker. Deliberate practice is the best way to improve your focus and increase the amount of time you are able to actively listen to another person.
Use Your Eyes
Body language can give subtle clues about the real message behind the speaker’s words. Often, words are not enough to convey the true meaning of what we are trying to say, so it’s important to look for visual cues and learn to interpret non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, posture and muscle tension can all provide clues to the real message and state of mind of the person speaking.
Encourage the Speaker
To show the person speaking that you are listening to what they are saying, use open body language and gestures of encouragement. Nodding your head and adding small words or sounds of approval demonstrate that you are engaged and want to continue listening. Check your body language to ensure that you are not using defensive or distracting gestures, such as crossing your arms, swinging your foot or fidgeting.
Check Your Understanding
Communication problems arise when the speaker uses indirect or confusing language, which leads to misunderstandings that can cause tension and conflict. Therefore, it’s important to check that you have correctly understood the message being conveyed. Paraphrasing, summarizing and asking questions for clarification enables you to gain a clearer picture, while also demonstrating that you are interested in the speaker’s point of view.
Once the speaker has finished talking, it’s your turn to respond, provide feedback or answer any concerns they may have. If you disagree with their comments, take a moment to formulate your response and try to avoid using inflammatory language. Your tone of voice, body language and hand gestures are almost as important as the words you use, so always be aware of how the other person may perceive your response.
Effective listening involves focusing on the speaker’s words, facial expressions and body language to gain an understanding of what they are trying to say. You also need to use body language and active listening skills, such as paraphrasing, to encourage the speaker and check your interpretation of their words. Finally, you need to formulate an appropriate response that allows for further discussion and satisfies the speaker’s concerns.