Practicing Listening Skills

| By Jodi Horton

We may not realize it, but listening is a skill we could all probably work on improving. It can be difficult to capture the meaning of someone’s message, and make them feel as though we’re present and engaged, if we’re not listening with complete presence and attention.

Create a comfortable environment.

It may sound obvious, but the environment around you really matters when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone. It’s much easier to give someone your undivided attention when you’re not thinking about how cold the room is or what’s happening on the television set behind you. Choose a spot where you’re both comfortable and where you’re both free of distraction.

Strive to be an active listener.

The Department of State (link to page: http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/65759.htm) lists four great rules for active listening.

Rule 1: Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. What does this mean? Stop trying to formulate a response while the other person is still talking. Listen to what they’re saying, and then respond.

Rule 2: Be non-judgmental. It just makes sense that by being non-judgmental, other people are more encouraged to share their thoughts and their stories with us.

Rule 3: Give your undivided attention to the speaker. We can’t be an active listener when we’re trying to follow multiple trains of thought. The State Dept. also recommends maintaining eye contact so the speaker can affirm that you’re listening.

Rule 4: Use silence effectively. Don’t be afraid of silence. Let the speaker lead the conversation, and don’t interrupt. During a silent moment, remember that even your presence can speak volumes.

Avoid distractions.

It’s pretty clear that you can’t be fully listening to someone else if you’re distracted by something else. Turn off the television or the radio, and put your cell phone on silent and out of your sight. If you focus your attention on the person speaking, you’ll be able to understand what their meaning, and the speaker feels valued.

Use paraphrasing and open-ended questions.

Paraphrasing and open-ended questions reassure the speaker that you’re listening to what he or she is saying. Paraphrasing the speaker’s statement helps build your understanding of the meaning of what he or she is saying. Open-ended questions encourage the other person to share their story or feelings. Open-ended questions usually start with words like “how…” or “why…”

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