Improving Listening Skills


Improving listening skills is very possible, and very important to relationships, personal or professional.

The techniques are fairly standard. Some of them are listed below.

What is not standard information in most improving listening skills programs is that even with the best of intentions, you are going to lose your focus once in awhile, daydream, experience fatigue, get bored, ect. and you need to know what to do if you miss a chunk of information from the speaker.

Listening happens inside your head. It does not happen at your eardrum, the ear drum vibrates and sends a sort of morse code to the thalamus, which gates the information to broca's area where listening, interpretation, and speaking happen.

Human's are designed to respond, or switch attention, when there is movement in the environment. This is called the human orienting response, and on occasion, when you are listening, you will find yourself responding to the environment rather than your speaker.

You may return your attention to your speaker quickly, without missing much, or your may not.

If you find yourself missing some information, it is ok to say, "Could you please repeat that, I was distracted, and missed a part of your message."

At that point, you have returned to your internal committment to listen, which needs to be repeated in your head frequently, even if you have lots of practice with listening.

Another important listening tip is to summarize for your speaker what you are hearing him/her say, and to ask if that is accurate.

My working memory, even with lots of brain fitness practice, only holds so much, and I need to speak it, and make a quick effort to commit it to memory for a case note, or it will be gone.

I like to try and tease out the themes I am hearing today during those summaries.

If my speaker says that my summary is inaccurate, I need to explore that in a caring way, which means I am listening without any need to be "right".

On many occasions, I have repeated back verbatim what a client has said, and the client has said, "No, that is not what I said," which usually means "that is not what I meant", but my job is simply to listen with care, or perhaps unconditional positive regard.

Improving listening skills then becomes an internal process that I can attend to frequently, like my heart beats, working and resting in quick sequences.

That work, rest, work process, done quickly, (heartbeat quickly) helps me stay fresh in the conversation, and allows me to honor the clients struggle frequently. That is where I get to say that your work is very courageous, because it is.

I can even take a quick second to imagine my children in my chest by my heart to generate the physiology of love, rather than stress. All it takes is a heart beat and practice, then I switch back to listening, without missing a beat as it were.

Your client will see the subtle clues of your relaxation practice play across your face too, and that will help them go deeper.

So improving listening skills actually involves several quick attentional shifts, refreshing you, and attending to them with care, then you can do the usual techniques, like those following.

1. Paraphrasing

To paraphrase, one simply rewords what another individual has said. For example, the speaker might say, "She was foolish to quit her job." The listener might respond, "I hear you saying that you believe she shouldn't have quit." What has occurred is paraphrasing where the listener has clarified what the speaker has said. Then ask if you, as listener, are accurate. Note in paraphrasing, you are not noting the speakers feelings.

2. Open ended Questions

An open question explores a person's statement without requiring a simple "yes" or "no" answer.

The basic difference between an open question and a closed question is what they provide the person being asked. When you are asked an open ended question it helps you think more about an issue.

A closed ended question will not do that. It may force you to answer before you are ready, or require a "yes" or "no" answer that doesn't allow more thinking about the issue.

3. Feeling Reflection

Feeling reflection is a response in which you express a feeling or emotion you have experienced in reference to a particular statement. For example, the speaker might say, "I get sick of working so much overtime!" The listener might respond, "I hear you feeling angry and resentful at being asked to work so much overtime." Feeling reflections are perhaps the most difficult active listening responses to make. Not only do you actively listen to what is being said but also you actively listen for what is being felt. When you make a feeling reflection, you are reflecting back what you hear of another's feelings. It is similar to paraphrasing; however, you repeat what you heard them feeling instead of what you heard them saying. To understand what individuals are feeling, you must listen to their words, to their tone of voice, and watch their body signals. By observing all three you can begin to guess their feelings.

* Listen carefully so that you will be able to understand, comprehend and evaluate. Careful listening will require a conscious effort on your part. You must be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages (reading between the lines).

* Be mentally and physically prepared to listen. Put other thoughts out of your mind. Your attention will be diverted from listening if you try to think of answers in advance.

* You can't hear if you do all the talking.

* Think about the topic in advance, if possible. Be prepared to listen.

* Listen with empathy. See the situation from the other's point of view. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

* Be courteous; don't interrupt. Take notes if you worry about forgetting a particular point.

* Avoid stereotyping individuals by making assumptions about how you expect them to act. This will bias your listening.

* Listen to how something is said. Be alert for what is left unsaid.

* Make certain everyone involved gets an opportunity to voice their opinions. Don't let one person dominate the conversation.

* Face those you are talking with, lean slightly forward and make eye contact. Use your body to show your interest and concern.

For the most part, we as human beings naturally follow social orientations like the above, because we are social.

The better you can do them, though, which means review in your own head these steps as you do them, the more safe your speaker will feel, and when they feel safe, solutions to issues emerge.

The Usual Improve Listening Skills Tools

So improving listening skills actually involves several quick attentional shifts, refreshing you, and attending to them with care, then you can do the usual techniques, like those following.

1. Paraphrasing

To paraphrase, one simply rewords what another individual has said. For example, the speaker might say, "She was foolish to quit her job." The listener might respond, "I hear you saying that you believe she shouldn't have quit." What has occurred is paraphrasing where the listener has clarified what the speaker has said. Then ask if you, as listener, are accurate. Note in paraphrasing, you are not noting the speakers feelings.

2. Open ended Questions

An open question explores a person's statement without requiring a simple "yes" or "no" answer.

The basic difference between an open question and a closed question is what they provide the person being asked. When you are asked an open ended question it helps you think more about an issue.

A closed ended question will not do that. It may force you to answer before you are ready, or require a "yes" or "no" answer that doesn't allow more thinking about the issue.

3. Feeling Reflection

Feeling reflection is a response in which you express a feeling or emotion you have experienced in reference to a particular statement. For example, the speaker might say, "I get sick of working so much overtime!" The listener might respond, "I hear you feeling angry and resentful at being asked to work so much overtime." Feeling reflections are perhaps the most difficult active listening responses to make. Not only do you actively listen to what is being said but also you actively listen for what is being felt. When you make a feeling reflection, you are reflecting back what you hear of another's feelings. It is similar to paraphrasing; however, you repeat what you heard them feeling instead of what you heard them saying. To understand what individuals are feeling, you must listen to their words, to their tone of voice, and watch their body signals. By observing all three you can begin to guess their feelings.

* Listen carefully so that you will be able to understand, comprehend and evaluate. Careful listening will require a conscious effort on your part. You must be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages (reading between the lines).

* Be mentally and physically prepared to listen. Put other thoughts out of your mind. Your attention will be diverted from listening if you try to think of answers in advance.

* You can't hear if you do all the talking.

* Think about the topic in advance, if possible. Be prepared to listen.

* Listen with empathy. See the situation from the other's point of view. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

* Be courteous; don't interrupt. Take notes if you worry about forgetting a particular point.

* Avoid stereotyping individuals by making assumptions about how you expect them to act. This will bias your listening.

* Listen to how something is said. Be alert for what is left unsaid.

* Make certain everyone involved gets an opportunity to voice their opinions. Don't let one person dominate the conversation.

* Face those you are talking with, lean slightly forward and make eye contact. Use your body to show your interest and concern.

For the most part, we as human beings naturally follow social orientations like the above, because we are social.

The better you can do them, though, which means review in your own head these steps as you do them, the more safe your speaker will feel, and when they feel safe, solutions to issues emerge. 

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