Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling like you haven’t been heard, that the other person wasn’t really listening to you? If so, you’re not alone.
Most people believe that they rank high on listening skills. A study done at Wright State University surveyed more than 8000 people and a high percentage of them ranked themselves as being at least as good or better listeners than their co-workers.
You and I both know intuitively that this can’t be true. In fact, from my experience, I’d say that the majority of us could use a major tune up when it comes listening to others.The good news is that listening is a skill that can be taught, if you have the desire and discipline to practice.
Below are 5 listening skills that extremely successful people possess:
1. Make eye contact
Good eye contact demonstrates genuine interest in what the speaker is saying and shows that you really care. Think about how you feel when someone looks you straight in the eye while you’re talking vs. someone else whose eyes are wandering in a conversation—whether in the office, at a party, or with a friend or family member.
One action says: “I care and am listening to you.” The other action transmits the opposite message.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey
2. Ask only one question at a time
The first rule of thumb about asking questions is to ask NO questions until the speaker is finished with her thought. When there is a pause in the conversation, then feel free to ask one question, and one question only, that has relevance to what the individual was discussing.
If there are other questions you want to ask, you’ll need to put them on hold until there is another pause in the conversation. Continue to ask only one question at a time: This practice is also a good discipline in learning not to blurt out what is immediately on your mind.
3. Pay attention
This is no easy task in a culture like ours that prides itself on multi-tasking. Paying attention when someone else is speaking is a learned behavior for most of us. When you find your mind wandering, take a deep breath, then gently tell yourself to re-focus on what the speaker is saying.
Initially, you may find your mind wandering several times throughout a conversation. But if you are vigilant about gently pulling it back to listening to the individual speaking, you will experience significant improvements.
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ― Mary Oliver
4. Do not make assumptions
For a lot of us, it’s second nature to interrupt and make assumptions about what the speaker is saying based on our own experiences and feelings. By doing this, you’re certainly not listening to the other person. You’re inside your own head responding to how you would have felt or reacted.
It’s critical to catch your inner voice when you hear it saying phrases like, “She must have been furious”, “I don’t understand how she could have done that!”, “Wow, I bet she’s really happy!”, or “I know exactly how she feels!”
Rather than making assumptions, when the person is finished speaking, repeat back to them what you heard them say and ask them if you understood correctly. Also, if confused or curious, feel free to ask them to explain their thoughts in more detail so that you can better understand them.
5. Do not talk
Unless you’re asking a question (when there is a pause) or showing that you understand with the use of a few words that will encourage the speaker to continue with their thoughts, keep your mouth shut.
So many of us think that by offering words of advice or solutions to a problem that we are being helpful. But the truth is quite the contrary. We immediately shut the other person down and don’t give them the opportunity to continue with their thoughts.
Several years ago I was with a friend at a very important business meeting. While we were talking prior to the meeting, he said to me: “Frannie, you talk too much. You need to listen more.” The words stung but his words proved to be some of the best advice that anyone has ever given me. They motivate me to spend time reading about and learning how to significantly improve my listening skills. Or as my dear father used to say: “So much not to know. You’ll always learn more from listening than from talking.”