effective listening skills

Effective Listening Skills

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It might sound obvious as we all can hear things around us but effective listening skills are very important but how many of us listen intensely?

In today’s fast pace of life, we are bombarded by so many distractions. Mobile phones, text messages, social media, email to name but a few. We live in a world of instant replies, being available 24/7. Not a high percentage of us can really be honest and say we listen with intensity to what another person is saying. Our minds wander off to something else or we are thinking about the next question we want to ask. It is important to keep in mind, we are all unique, internally we all have our own map of our world and by obtaining good listening skills we must respect the communicator’s view of his/her internal world. This article will touch on the 10 areas to help improve effective and good listening skills.

Face the speaker and maintain eye contact:

To develop effective listening skills think of a situation when you have been communicating something and the listener is scanning the room, looking at their computer screen or looking out of the window. It is like trying to hit a moving target! There are cultural differences but in the main by maintaining eye contact with the speaker is a good ingredient for basic communications. Think of a time when someone is talking from the other side of a room, it becomes an instinct to move closer to them to ensure eye contact is made. So, a good first step to improve listening skills, put aside papers, books, mobile phones and allow the communicator to talk with you and just being respectful. Non eye contact can send out bad messages to the communicator!

Be attentive but relaxed:

Now that eye contact has been established, stay relaxed. There is no need to stare the person out, it is fine to look away on occasions. The importance is to stay attentive. The verb, to attend has several definitions, to be present, give attention, apply or direct yourself, pay attention and remain ready to serve. Mentally block out distractions, background noise, activities. Try not focus too much on the speaker’s accent or mannerisms. Focusing too much can become a distraction. Finally, try and not let personal feelings or thoughts distract you as well. You may not agree with what they are saying but at this point you can easily miss a good point because you have been distracted.

Keep an open mind:

We can all be judgmental so the importance here is keep an open mind during the conversation. Try and not be judgement of the person or what they are saying, again this will be a distraction from the main subject being discussed. Something that can be very annoying to a communicator is a “sentence grabber”, the person that tries to finish the other person’s sentence. By doing this you will break of form of rapport with that person. Especially important also not to jump to conclusions. How many times have we witnessed press conferences where the journalist has made their own mind up of the outcome which has not reflected what the speaker said?

Listen to speaker and try and visualise what they are say.

Remembering that we all have our own map of the world, try and build a picture in your head of what the speaker is saying. During a lengthy conversation attempt to pick out key words or statements that will help you retain the information. Mainly, concentrate only on what is being said. Sometimes the subject may be quite boring, force yourself to refocus. It is a skill and does require practice.

Do not interrupt or impose your solution:

The golden rule here. How many times do we hear a parent speaking to a child “it is rude to interrupt”? By interrupting is has proved to the speaker that you have not been listening to them. Apart from being rude, it shows lack of self-control and in a dispute situation. You have lost! Interrupting gives a message to the speaker that, you think you are more important than them, what I have to say is more interesting, I do not really care what you think, this is not a conversation, it is a contest and I am going to win!

What for a pause to ask your questions

Of course, there will be a situation when you do not understand something and ask them to clarify. Rather than interrupt, wait a small pause and then ask your question.

Ask questions only to ensure understanding

Yes, we have all been there. Think of the times in meetings or in a classroom when we have those folks that like to the sound of their own voice. So annoying not only to the audience but to the speaker as well. Sure, ask questions but only to ensure and backup your understanding. Never move the speaker away from their subject when asking a question by asking something that is so far away from the initial subject.

Using our senses, try and feel what the speaker is saying:

Pure human senses here. If the subject is of a sad nature, then show and feel sadness and if joy and happiness then show joy and happiness. Remembering 55% of our communication is body language, pick up from one or two of our senses, visual, audible, kinaesthetic, smell and taste.

Give the speaker regular feedback:

Agreeing and nodding during the conversation is a signal to the speaker that you are still following them and have trained into their thoughts. Expressions like “oh yes, I agree”, “I can understand why you were upset”. Facial expressions are sometimes enough to ensure that you have followed the conversation. The main purpose here is to give the speaker confidence that you are following them. In meetings or more complicated scenarios always good resonate the task or action to ensure you have fully understood.

Pay attention to what is not being said, non-verbal dialogue.

Us humans are complicated creatures, just a movement of an eye can send signals. Be aware of your own body language when in a conversation and notice the speaker. Eye cues, lower lip and sloping of shoulders are all good signs to look out for.

Listening or intensive listening skills must be practiced, and it does take time for all of this to become natural.

How Can You Develop Effective Listening Skills?


communication skills


Exercise One – Watch someone being interviewed on TV. Is the interviewer Does the interviewer have pre prepared questions or is the follow up question based on the answer the celebrity just provided?

Exercise Two: During a conversation with a friend, colleague or teammate do they interrupt you whilst you are talking to them? How does that make you feel?

Exercise Three: Have a conversation with a team mate or your coach about the last game/performance. At the end of the conversation write down 5 key things they said that were positive and/or negative about your performance.

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Written by Bob Humphreys, Master NLP Practitioner, ABNLP Certified

Bob has worked with professional sports people in the UK and Europe. He is a huge believer that the sports industry practices are similar to those in business. Both are competitive, require tactics, motivation, belief, teamwork, concentration, planning and excellent leadership skills to get the best out of a team.
Bob has now combined his experience in NLP and coaching to offer “soft skills” coaching to groups or individuals. He firmly believes that with the advancements of technology today, we are seeing signs of losing the human aspects with communication, social skills and human interaction. A truly passionate practitioner who likes nothing more than seeing a smile appear on faces.

Think 2 Win – www.think2win.net