Why Listening Skills Are A Powerful Gift and How You Can Develop Them
Like all aspects of communication, effective listening skills are vital for positive change and personal growth. Highly regarded by employers, listening skills are essential for effective teamwork and leadership.
At Aristotle’s Café, we share the philosophy that before we ask people to understand someone else, they must first be understood and listened to.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
Mastering listening skills can help to develop our understanding and empathy for others. By using effective listening skills, we can let others know that ‘I hear you’ and show them that they matter and feel valued.
But what are the characteristics of effective listening skills and how can we demonstrate them?
The first step towards good listening is using active listening skills which can be demonstrated in many ways.
Assume the speaker has good intentions and is doing their best. Everyone has a back story so it could be easy to make judgements about people and their intentions. Try to remove any assumptions about someone’s agenda and just listen openly to what they have to say.
Engage with the speaker using eye contact. Show respect and attentiveness by looking at the speaker. A word of caution here that the aim is not to stare but to maintain enough eye contact to show that you are interested in what they have to say.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues. As well as eye contact, you can demonstrate active listening by using facial expressions, posture and appropriate interactions, such as nodding. This shows the speaker that you are engaged and responding to what they are saying. Equally, you can notice non-verbal cues in others by observing body language and picking up on what is not being said. However, be aware of the cultural context to non-verbal expressions as some gestures may have different meanings in different cultures.
Ask questions. You can respond to the speaker by asking questions for clarity or to encourage them to elaborate on a particular point. You can also ask open-ended questions to promote further discussion on the topic. (Need inspiration? Check out our 150+ Icebreaker Questions)
Summarize what the speaker has said. Reflect the speaker’s words back to them by repeating and summarizing the points they have made. This is an effective way to confirm your own understanding and to show that you have used your listening skills effectively.
“A good listener knows we benefit hugely from encouragement to elaborate, to go into further detail, to push a little further.” – The School of Life
When you are listening, where is your focus? Ask yourself this question and be honest with the response. To truly demonstrate empathetic listening, you should focus completely on the person speaking and not on yourself. Try to consider what it is like to be in their shoes. Be aware of moments when your attention may be drifting and redirect your focus to the speaker.
It is through empathetic listening that true communication occurs. This essential life skill is a gift that can create a positive impact when dealing with change or difficult circumstances.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee
Facilitative listening skills require a structured approach to listening which allows groups of individuals to focus on a specific idea or concept. To master these listening skills, you should:
- Balance the process and the content.
- Provide direction but not control the discussion.
- Focus on hearing the ideas. It is irrelevant whether you agree or not, you should aim to maximize the collective ideas in the group.
- Make connections and help others make meaning.
- Encourage further elaboration or disclosure.
- Invite feedback from others.
- Build the capacity of the group and individuals.
- Promote collaboration and consensus.
Recognizing Poor Listening Skills
Even though our intention may be to listen well, there are some tell-tale signs that show we may not be there yet. Here are some key things you should avoid:
Unsolicited advice, especially if you have not been asked for feedback.
Jumping in with your own thoughts as soon as the speaker pauses. Creating a moment of silence gives the speaker an opportunity to elaborate and others the time to reflect on what has been said.
Changing the subject unexpectedly. Use signposting language to guide the speaker to a digression.
“Listen to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.” – Jordan Peterson
The Benefits of Listening Skills for Personal Growth
“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” – Alan Alda
There are many benefits of developing effective listening skills which can help you at different times and in various situations. These skills create a powerful gift that can be shared in many areas of life.
Building trust and establishing rapport can be beneficial in developing and maintaining personal and professional relationships.
Showing how you can communicate effectively with others increases your employability, if you can demonstrate how you have used these skills.
Developing emotional intelligence helps you to identify and manage emotions.
Learning more about others and yourself; listening and discovering more about others is also an opportunity to discover more about yourself.
Cultivating an ability to demonstrate humility, integrity and transparency to promote greater understanding and empathy.
“Sometimes we forget how good it feels to be listened to. Bringing people together and creating a space for someone to be heard is a powerful thing.” – Aristotle’s Café
Looking to strengthen your listening skills?
Join Aristotle’s Cafe’s online course to discover how to improve your skills and create an environment that encourages you and others to communicate effectively.
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