Hearing and listening are not the same. You hear music, the sound of rainfall, or the sound of food being prepared in the kitchen. Listening, on the other hand, requires attention, comprehension of the message that’s being relayed, and recollection of what’s been said.
Effective listeners not only show interest, they also acknowledge what has been said. Listening is a valuable skill on both a personal and professional level.
Benefits of Being a Good Listener
There are numerous benefits associated with being a good listener. People with refined listening skills can help others feel secure in expressing their opinions. They may also be better able to reduce tension during arguments and communicate respect to the speaker. Other potential benefits include being more likable, building stronger relationships, and having a clearer understanding of what’s being discussed.
- Good listeners are more likable. Individuals with strong listening skills are present in the conversation. People who listen with focus are often perceived as more likable.
- Good listeners build stronger relationships. Communication is not a one-way street. Good listeners show interest, ask open-ended questions, and acknowledge what’s being said. This helps reduce misunderstandings and builds stronger relationships.
- Good listeners have a clearer understanding of the topics being discussed. Individuals with refined listening skills seek to fully understand a speaker’s message. They pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues and ask for clarification when needed.
Strategies for Effective Listening
Listening isn’t a passive activity, but a process that you actively undertake. To be a better listener, you must be focused on the speaker, their message, and let the speaker know you understand what’s been said. Below are just a few of the techniques you can use to become a better listener.
- Make eye contact. Making and maintaining eye contact with the speaker lets them know they have your undivided attention. Put your phone on silent and put it away, and turn off your radio and TV. If you’re in a Zoom meeting, set your status to “do not disturb” and minimize other browser windows. Looking at your smartphone or scanning the room can make you seem uninterested and interrupt your ability to concentrate on what you are hearing.
- Ask follow-up questions. If the speaker’s message is unclear, ask clarifying questions to gain more information. You can also ask confirming questions, such as “I want to make sure I got that right. It sounds like you’re saying Is that correct?” This can help you gauge if you’ve received the message accurately. If you’re engaged with a teacher, colleague, or manager, take notes and leave room for silence. This allows you to take a beat and process the information you’ve received before asking for more information.
- Be present and attentive. Good listeners are attentive and engaged in the moment. They shut out distractions and give their undivided attention to the speaker. Additionally, using positive minimal response, such as nodding, touch, or through sound, also shows you’re listening and actively engaged with the speaker.
- Don’t interrupt. When you interrupt, it communicates that you don’t care about what’s being said. Interrupting can also make it appear as if you’re uninterested in the subject matter and were looking for a moment to interject.
Examples of Ineffective Listening
Ineffective listeners aren’t engaged, don’t make eye contact, and often miss what’s being presented. Ineffective listening strategies you should avoid include selective listening, inattentiveness, and defensive listening.
- Selective listening. Selective listening is like listening with a highlighter. Instead of considering the totality of the speaker’s message, selective listeners only pay attention to the parts they think are most relevant to them.
- Inattentive listeners don’t give speakers their full attention. They’re often distracted and focused on other things, which can mean missing most of what the speaker is saying.
- Defensive listening. Defensive listeners hear innocent statements, such as “I don’t like people who are indecisive,” and perceive them as personal attacks. Defensive listening can cause strain in both personal and professional relationships.
4 Types of Listening
Listening skills can be developed, but it takes practice. Whether you’re interested in improving your networking, landing a new client, or connecting better with your family, strong listening skills can help. Below are just a few effective listening styles.
1. Deep Listening
Deep listening occurs when you’re committed to understanding the speaker’s perspective. It involves paying attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, such as the words being used, the speaker’s body language, and their tone. This type of listening helps build trust and rapport, and it helps others feel comfortable in expressing their thoughts and opinions.
2. Full Listening
Full listening involves paying close and careful attention to what the speaker is conveying. It often involves the use of active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing what’s been said to the person you’re speaking with to ensure you understand their messaging. Full listening is useful in the classroom, when someone is instructing you on how to complete a task, and when discussing work projects with superiors.
3. Critical Listening
Critical listening involves using systematic reasoning and careful thought to analyze a speaker’s message and separate fact from opinion. Critical listening is often useful in situations when speakers may have a certain agenda or goal, such as watching political debates, or when a salesperson is pitching a product or service.
4. Therapeutic Listening
Therapeutic listening means allowing a friend, colleague, or family member to discuss their problems. It involves emphasizing and applying supportive nonverbal cues, such as nodding and maintaining eye contact, in addition to empathizing with their experiences.
Become a Better Listener
Becoming a better listener takes practice, but if you succeed, you’ll find yourself learning new and interesting things about the people you communicate with. You may also find you’re better at picking up subtle messaging cues others may miss.
A number of specific strategies can be applied to listening, but they all share one key element: being present and attentive during conversations and respectful of those involved. This ability can help you be a more effective partner, parent, student, and coworker.