Be honest. Everyone has been guilty, at some time or another, of not listening.
Whether the complaint comes from a spouse, parent, child, employer, or friend, listening skills are rarely as sharp as they could be. According to the University of Missouri Extension, people spend about 45 percent of their time listening. However, they also report that studies show most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.
Julian Treasure, a sound consultant and chair of the Sound Agency, which teaches businesses how to make better use of sound, presented his views on listening in a popular 2011 TED Talk . He asserts that the world has become too noisy and that people are too impatient. “And the art of conversation is being replaced— dangerously, I think—by personal broadcasting,” he says, citing the seriousness of the situation. “… listening is our access to understanding. Conscious listening always creates understanding.”
Tips to improve listening skills
To foster better habits, Treasure suggested five exercises for conscious listening that include:
- Spending three minutes in silence every day to “reset your ears”
- Becoming aware of the multiple sounds in your environment to improve the quality of listening (he calls this the “mixer”)
- Savoring mundane sounds, such as the dryer tumbling or the coffee maker gurgling
- Changing your listening position when appropriate
- Paying attention to the other person and ask questions
According to the editorial team at Mindful Tools, your listening habits have “a major impact on job effectiveness and on the quality of your relationships with others.”
So better listening skills can help both employers and employees.
Become an active listener
The Mindful Tools team promotes the practice of “active listening,” which combines a conscious effort to hear what the other person is saying with efforts to understand the whole message being communicated. It’s not always easy to focus on a conversation so when your mind begins to stray, the team suggests repeating the words mentally to reinforce their message and increase concentration.
Your body language also signals that you are paying attention, and physical signs, such as nodding or shaking your head, keep you focused on the speaker. Listening without judgment and responding appropriately make you an active participant in the conversation, they add.
Hone your skills
Although these tips seem simple, they are sometimes hard to adopt. Take Henrik Edberg for instance, owner of the Positivity Blog. He admits that he was not a good listener, but tried to turn his bad habit around with some interesting tips.
Edberg reminds himself that active listening is a win-win situation because it improves relationships for both the speaker and the listener. To make sure he is actively listening, he vows to pass along pieces of the conversation to others, a surefire way to sustain attention.
On the practical side, he maintains eye contact, tries not to interrupt, asks questions, and pockets his cell phone.
While it might seem a bit off topic, Edberg advocates for movement. “Two things that can keep that energy and mental clarity up are to open a window or to take a walk outside to get both some exercise and some fresh air,” he says. “Exercising regularly a bit more intensely a few times a week also makes it easier to fully be there when you want to and need to listen.”
Edberg realizes that there are times when you are simply not in a position to listen actively. If you are in a hurry, have a serious matter on your mind, don’t feel well, or have reached your listening limit, he advises honesty. Tell the person you need a break and ask to continue the conversation later.
Improving your listening skills won’t happen overnight. But by adopting and practicing one strategy at a time, you can move closer to better relationships and become more proficient at communicating.
For a comprehensive list of research-based facts and statistics on listening, assembled by Laura Janusik, PhD, Rockhurst University with assistance from Lynn Fullenkamp and Lauren Partese, click here.