Techniques to Improve Listening Skills

Effective communication requires both speaking and listening. While most people have the speaking part down; few have mastered the art of listening.

Even if you think you’re an expert listener, consider these alarming research findings:

On average, viewers who watch and listen to the evening news can only recall 17 percent of the content.

Physicians interrupt 69 percent of patient interviews within 18 seconds of the patient beginning to speak. As a result, 77 percent of patients never get to reveal their true reason for visiting the doctor’s office.

Think about how these findings relate to you. Perhaps people attempt to talk to you about a work problem. While they’re speaking, you might immediately jump to an assumption without ever finding out the real reason for the communication. Maybe you agree to help the person with some challenge, but within five minutes of the person leaving your office, you can’t recall the details of the situation.

The reported top three listening barriers for business professionals are:

  • The environment
  • Internal and/or personal problems the listener may be experiencing
  • The internal desire to develop counter arguments while the speaker is still speaking

Our environment has become more distracting with so much technology surrounding us—cell phones, iPods, e-mail, television, etc.—many people have difficulty concentrating on their work and their communications with others. The cost of communication breakdown is lost sales, lost opportunities, misunderstandings, bad customer service and hurt feelings.

What can you do to help improve listening skills? Plenty. Consider the following suggestions.

Five Tips to Improve Listening Skills

1. Remove all Distractions.

Get mentally prepared for listening by removing distractions. Close your office door, turn off your computer monitor, disable your e-mail notification signal, and turn off music and cell phones. Create an environment conducive to listening.

2. Properly prepare for the meeting.
If this is a planned meeting, prepare for it by creating an outline or agenda and questions that you think would be helpful for the topic. If this is an impromptu meeting, find out the goal of the communication as early as possible in the conversation. This will enable you to “listen on purpose.”

3. Take notes during meetings.
When you’re writing notes, you’re more likely to listen intently and less likely to interrupt the speaker. Additionally, taking notes lets the person talking know that you are interested in the conversation.

4. Get into the habit of not responding.
Mentally tell yourself not to respond and to concentrate on what the other person is saying. Repeat what the person says to ensure that you understand. Let people finish their sentence or thought before you respond. Practice taking a breath before you respond to their question or problem. This will give you more time to think of an appropriate response and help you appear thoughtful.

5. Listen to comprehend.
Be aware that most people listen with the intent to reply. In order to help you stay focused on the conversation, listen to comprehend, not to reply. This is especially important when you’re listening to a client with a problem or when you’re learning something new. Changing your intent from “listening to respond” to “listening to comprehend” will help you focus.

When you really listen to people, you will experience more meaningful communication with others.


Check out our business communication skills training programs to learn more or contact us to find out how we can help you improve your communication skills:

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