Communication is a two-way street. Without listening there is effectively no communication because to make a meaningful contribution to a dialog the participants need to be cognizant of what went before and keep up with the thread of the discussion.
Listening skills are especially important in the workplace because they can mean the difference between finding the solution to a problem and dragging out the cost because the answer is buried in a response that was only half-way received. There are a few factors that could impair effective listening and they include;
- Distractions from those around you.
- Unchecked emotions such as worry or anxiety.
- Allowing preoccupation to settle in because of lengthy periods of boredom which punctuate the discussion.
- A closed or prejudiced mind which does not allow alternative opinions in.
Activities to Improve Listening Skills
Despite the several possibilities that may derail your attempts to effectively communicate, there are a few simple activities to improve listening skills that you can do:
Try to Relax
One of the hindrances to effective listening is a cluttered mind so it is important to try to relax. When your mind is free from distracting thoughts you can focus on what is being said in the present.
Make Eye Contact
Eye contact makes it difficult to allow your mind to wonder off. If you are looking directly at the person that is engaged in conversation with you, you are more likely to remember what is said because you might also absorb certain body language signals.
If you interrupt too much you run the risk of taking the conversation in a different path. It is better to wait until you hear where the other person is going before you interrupt them with a comment or question.
Ask Relevant Questions
While you should not jump in with questions too early on, you should certainly make mental notes of the things that concern you. You may not be able to grasp everything that is said so questions can help to illuminate any grey areas before you walk away with uncertainties.
Another activity that helps to improve your listening skills is providing feedback. If you start off thinking of the pros and the cons of the subject matter and the way in which it was presented you are in a better position to retain it all. Providing feedback also shows that you were actively engaged and paying full attention.
Summarize Periodically to Make Sure You Understand
Some people like to periodically summarize the points. If the subject matter is complex or you want to make sure you have all the constraints or features accurately understood you can pause to offer a summary. When you do this be careful not to repeat everything in too much detail because this can be a real setback for those involved and you may end up losing your listener. Instead, make an effort to really give only the key points of what you just heard.
If communication is a large part of your job, mastering your listening skills is imperative. These tips and activities to improve listening skills can surely help you to become a better listener with some practice.
Image: Yaron Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net