13 Ways to Become a Better Listener

listenDid you know that March is International Listening Awareness Month? And did you know that we are collectively very poor listeners? In fact, according to the International Listening Association, we only retain about half of what we hear immediately after we hear it, and only about 20% beyond that. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

Despite the disappointing stats, though, listening is one of the most important parts of successful communication. Many times, I think we get caught up in the sound of our own voices and we forget to be quiet and hear what others are saying.

Imagine if we were all able to boost our ability to listen so we retained 75% of what we heard immediately after hearing it and 50% long term? The implications of this more effective listening would be phenomenal:

  • We would be spend less time trying to recall what we can’t remember and become more productive.
  • The quality of our work would improve because we would make less mistakes.
  • We would likely get into fewer arguments.
  • Our relationships would be stronger.
  • We would have more empathy and compassion for others.

So in honor of International Listening Awareness Month, I’ve compiled a list of ways to become a more effective listener.

  1. Stop talking.
  2. Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes so you get a deeper understanding of where they’re coming from and what is driving them to say what they’re saying.
  3. Focus on using inviting body language, such as making eye contact, uncrossing your arms, and turning your shoulders so you’re facing the person speaking.
  4. Avoid thinking about what you’re going to say next.
  5. Create memory triggers to assist your recall.
  6. Be open minded and avoid passing judgment on the speaker.
  7. Stop doing other things — all other things — while someone is speaking to you.
  8. Reschedule the conversation when possible if you can’t remove the distractions.
  9. Participate in active listening by encouraging the speaker with nods and affirmative words.
  10. Take what is being said at face value and avoid focusing on the “hidden” meaning.
  11. Don’t interrupt.
  12. Summarize and repeat what you heard when it’s your turn to talk.
  13. Ask for clarification to get a better understanding of what was said.

When it gets down to it, and when you take the busyness of life into consideration, listening is hard. But we all have the same struggles and the same opportunity for improvement.

I’m ready to tackle some of these tips in March, and will hopefully be able to form better habits when it comes to my ongoing ability to listen effectively.

What will you do to improve your own listening skills?

Image credit: StillSearc

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • Mike Pearce

    Pretty sure that most people would do really well if they just adhered to 1) and 11)…

  • mpn_1983

    Interesting, I wonder how much of our retention about something that has just been said is due to the fact that often (IMO or experience) 80% of what we hear is gumph and can afford to be immediately discarded?

    I often take notes during a coversation that I consider may be important – though that violates number 7 and I therefore frequently ask people to repeat things they’ve just said and the number of times people can’t do that makes it appear that the content/comment was arbitrary.

    If we assume “I think we get caught up in the sound of our own voices and we forget to be quiet and hear what others are saying.” is true then it could also be considered that the person speaking is doing so for precisely this reason (ok, if both parties are straight talking this isn’t a problem).

    Also numbers 2 and 9 on that list are seemingly contradictory.

    Though provoking article though, thanks (also I didn’t know that March is International Listening Awareness Month – I’ll try to pay more attention to people).

  • mpn_1983

    Oh god, (FAIL on my part) unable to edit I have to correct my own comment by saying 2 and 10 are seemingly contradictory.

  • http://m2i3.com myrdhrin

    @mpn_1983 – Why would 2 and 10 be contradictory? you can put yourself in someone shoes to understand the nuances and local meanings without looking for hidden things. Where do you find the contradiction?

  • mpn_1983

    Personally I think “what is driving them to say what they’re saying” is synonymous with looking for hidden meaning.

    Also it’s a little comical, I have to ask, did you form that opinion and post it straight away or did you try and see it from my (another) perspective? Have I done that?… not well enough probably.

    Yes, you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes to try and guess what is the reasoning behind what they are saying but I suspect that whilst you’re doing that you are also not paying full attention to what exactly is being said. Which at least is contrary to the overall objective of being a better listner.

  • http://www.billbolte.com bbolte

    oh, uhmmm, what did you say?