How To Improve Listening Skills (With Steps And Types)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 1 January 2023

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Listening is an essential skill that facilitates meaningful human interactions. It is crucial to develop and improve this skill to improve your overall communication abilities. Many job roles across industries require excellent listening skills, meaning anyone can benefit from developing in this area. In this article, we discuss how to improve listening skills and their importance in the workplace.

What Is Listening?

Listening is the ability of the listener to make a conscious effort to understand the speaker's message. It requires focus and attention and may come naturally to some more than others. Listening also requires the listener to resist the urge to comment or ask questions and understand the speaker's perspective without judgement. It is an essential skill that improves and builds human relationships.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions And Examples

How To Improve Listening Skills?

Here are a few steps you may follow to understand how to improve listening skills:

1. Provide non-verbal cues

When listening to someone speak, it is essential to maintain eye contact. It provides a nonverbal cue showcasing your interest. Avoid looking elsewhere, scrolling through your phone or even wearing headphones. Limit such distractions and provide your undivided attention. Apart from making eye contact, make sure you face them and even nod occasionally to show your interest.

Nonverbal cues reassure the speaker and encourage them to express themselves. It helps remove their inhibitions. If the speaker is on a stage, it is essential to still look at them, even if they are not speaking with you directly.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Nonverbal Communication Skills

2. Visualise what the speaker says

While listening to someone speak, try to master a mental image of the concept they discuss with you. It helps retain information and create a mental note of keywords and phrases important to the conversation. Additionally, visualisation helps you holistically understand and prepares you to ask questions. If you lose focus, make a conscious effort to concentrate. You may also write down key points and phrases while listening to the speaker.

3. Practice waiting to speak

Everyone speaks and processes information differently. It is essential to respect the pace at which a speaker talks and listen to it patiently. If the speaker talks slowly, do not try to complete their sentences. Interrupting someone showcases arrogance and shows that you do not care about what someone says.

If you disagree with the speaker, do not discourage them from speaking. It is essential to let them make their point before you discuss yours. Doing so also ensures that you interpret their perspective before concluding. If someone is sharing their problem, avoid immediately providing solutions. Sometimes the speaker is looking for someone to listen to them. If they require advice, they may ask for it. If you wish to share your ideas or solutions, seek their permission before sharing.

Related: 13 Effective Communication Strategies To Implement At Work

4. Limit judgements

Listen to a speaker without mentally criticising or judging their perspective. Indulging in mental conversations and comments while listening to someone compromises your effectiveness as a listener. It creates biases in your mind which limit your ability to understand the speaker's point of view. If something they say agitates you, avoid thinking about it negatively. Listen to them thoroughly. In some cases, their perspective may gradually make sense to you. Avoid making any conclusions without listening to the full story.

In addition, do not judge the speaker's accent or speech mannerisms. Everyone learns a language differently. It is essential to respect the speaker's speech and focus on what they require to share.

5. Wait for a pause and seek permission to ask a question

If you did not understand something, do not interrupt the speaker. Instead, wait for a break and seek consent. Once the speaker allows you, ask your question. It helps show respect to the conversation and puts the speaker at ease. Additionally, it helps the speaker switch from speaking to listening and understanding your question before answering it.

6. Ask relevant questions

While raising questions, ensure they are relevant to the discussion. You may ask clarifying questions that help make the conversation engaging. It also showcases that you paid attention to the speaker and your interest in discussing further. While framing your question, avoid phrases that may reflect your bias or lead to an answer you wish to hear.

Asking irrelevant questions steers the conversation in a different direction and makes the speaker's efforts seem inconsequential. If your question changes the topic of discussion, you may still complete that conversation and come back to the original topic. It shows you were listening to the speaker and still value what they said. You may use phrases like 'coming back to the topic' or 'we seemed to have forgotten the original discussion' to bring the conversation back to the main context.

Related: 17 Communication Techniques For Professional Success

7. Show empathy to the speaker

Empathy is vital to effective listening. It allows you to feel what the speaker says and showcase similar emotions. It establishes a connection in the conversation and helps open channels of communication. Empathising with the speaker requires practice, concentration and energy.

Related: Social Skills: Definition, Examples And Why They're Important

8. Understand the nonverbal cues

Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. Many conversations carry nonverbal cues that convey how the speaker feels. Actions and expressions showcase emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, enthusiasm, agitation or boredom. Identifying such cues can help you understand and empathise with the speaker. It allows you to comprehend the underlying messaging in the conversation and ask relevant questions.

If you are speaking with someone on the phone, notice their tone. Similarly, in an in-person conversation, watch the expressions around the eyes, hand actions and even the slope of their shoulders. The body language may also help you understand how the speaker is feeling.

9. Show that you are listening

While the speaker is talking, it is essential to provide constant feedback that assures your attention. It also helps reinstate that you understand what the speaker is saying. You may provide this feedback using verbal and nonverbal cues. Reflect the speaker's feelings with phrases such as 'That is amasing,' 'You did well,' or 'I understand these are tough times.' You may pair these with nonverbal cues such as nodding your head, smiling or open body language.

10. Respond appropriately

While providing feedback, suggestions or even sharing your perspective is vital to showcase it respectfully. Be honest in your response and avoid words that are condemning or judgemental. Responding appropriately and patiently helps foster a healthy relationship and benefits the discussion.

11. Practice effective listening

Listening is a skill that requires practice. You may practice it by increasing your awareness. Do this by summarising conversations, podcasts, audiobooks, interviews or seminars. Listen to such material for at least four minutes before writing what you comprehend from the audio. Listen to the piece again to identify the amount of information you retained.

In a meeting, you may also choose to reiterate or summarise the conversation to ensure you understood the discussion and identified the key takeaway points. Listening exercises help enhance your listening skills and even improve your communication skill.

Related: How To Be A Good Listener (With Tips And Benefits)

Importance Of Improving Your Listening Skills

Communication skills comprise speaking and listening. Being an attentive listener benefits professionally and personally. Some benefits of listening skills are:

  • Building trust and eliminating conflicts

  • Reducing misunderstandings

  • Allowing critical assessment of the situation to identify issues

  • Enhancing interactions

  • Improving personal and professional relationships

  • Avoiding missing critical details

  • Helping expand knowledge

  • Building empathetic leaders

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition And Examples

Types Of Listening Styles

Listening is more than hearing someone speak. Depending on the scenario, a listener may embrace different forms of listening. Some common types of listening styles include:

  • Informational listening: You may adopt it while learning something new. It requires you to critically think while listening to ensure you understand the context and the concept.

  • Sympathetic listening: You may use it while consoling a friend, colleague or family member. It requires focusing on the speaker's tone, emotions and nonverbal cues to support them.

  • Therapeutic listening: It requires you to understand the speaker's point of view while imagining yourself to be in their position. It is an empathetic form of listening.

  • Critical listening: It is a style of listening you may adopt to analyse and solve problems. It requires understanding and processing complex information and drawing inferences to resolve issues.

  • Biased listening: People adopt selective listening practices to hear specific information or to satisfy their existing biases. It is ineffective and can lead to distortion of facts.

  • Discriminative listening: It is the first form of listening style that humans learn as babies. It relies on tone and subtleties of sound to understand emotions and meaning.

  • Comprehensive listening: It is the type of listening that develops in early childhood. It requires minimal language skills and vocabulary to understand the message of the communication.

Related: Listening Skills Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

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