Listening part 2

01 Jul 2015

Most of us come out of the womb knowing how to hear. But we don’t come out knowing how to listen; THAT is a learned skill.

Listening is getting harder everyday. With all the noise of our world, it’s tempting to shut down and tune out. Learning when and where to do that is essential, but so is essential listening; Unless you live as a hermit in a cabin in the woods by yourself, your likely interact with people everyday. And interaction, relationships, business and the core of it all—communication, is dependent on listening.

While I’m not usually big on lists, I do want to share ten principles to consider for improving your listening skills.

  1. Even if you don’t care about the topic, listen because you care about the person. Think about how you feel when you talk with someone you know is not listening to you. Do you feel devalued? Caring for another person is good motivation to give anyone a listen.
  2. Consider where to have conversations. Today’s pubs and restaurants are very noisy places. Trendy establishments are decorated with lots of hard surfaces (like concrete and steel) that do not absorb noise. If you need to have a deep conversation, carefully pick where you go. Think about places that will facilitate good conversation.
  3. Deal with the noise in your own head. Besides dealing with noisy environments, we have as much chatter inside us. We may be thinking about all the stuff we have to get done, whatever current challenge we’re dealing with, or some other life issue. And when we focus on ourselves, we leave no room for listening to others. Concentrate on not letting your mind wander with all the busyness of your own life.
  4. Seek first to understand before being understood. The old saying is pregnant with wisdom. Instead of thinking about what you want to say next, exercise self-discipline and wait until an appropriate time to share your perspective. By doing this, you place the other person before yourself.
  5. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to get past your own opinions, and really HEAR where the other is coming from. Try to feel what they are feeling and truly seek to understand their life from their perspective, not your judgment.
  6. Avoid pseudo listening, which really isn’t listening at all! Pseudo litening when you pretend to listen, selectively listen to just the parts you want to hear, and nod or give verbal cues to make the other person THINK you’re listening. It’s phony and the other person usually knows it.
  7. Avoid glazing over or minimizing what others say. Our minds work much faster than we can talk, so it’s tempting to jump over huge parts of a conversation and sometime reduce the complexity of someone’s story; sometimes we then miss the point all together.
  8. Be open minded to perspectives not your own. Listening to others allows us to see things from a different perspective, helps us to learn new things, and helps us connect at a deeply human level.
  9. Avoid competative listening. This is when we have to “one-up” the other person’s examples with those of our own. We often interrupt because we want to control the conversation. Let go, relax, and just let the conversation flow. Make every conversation a meaningful exchange, not a competition to see who can “win” by talking the most.
  10. Ask for clarification and give positive feedback. If someone uses terms you don’t understand, ask when they mean. (Trust me, you will look less foolish than if you continue in a conversation you don’t understand.)

Good listening skills are essential for healthy relationships and successful careers. So take the challenge to get better.

In case you missed it, see part 1 of this 2-part series on listening here.

Royalty free image by Ben Earwicker – Garrison Photography, Boise, ID – www.garrisonphoto.org. Retrieved from

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