How to effectively listen

10 tips for active listening - Heart Matters magazine

Listening is an important skill in all areas of life, whether you’re supporting a loved one through health problems, dealing with colleagues or in family relationships. But most of us aren’t as good at listening as we’d like to think.

When we show we’re really listening, it’s much more rewarding for the person talking to you, and you’ll get more out of it too. This is called active listening, and it can help avoid misunderstanding and reduce the potential for conflict.

Here are 10 easy ways to make your communication more effective and make the other person feel more valued.

1. Face the speaker and have eye contact

Eye contact is an important part of face to face conversation. Too much eye contact can be intimidating, though, so adapt this to the situation you’re in. Try breaking eye contact every five seconds or so, or to show you’re listening attentively, look at one eye for five seconds, then another eye for five seconds, then switch to looking at their mouth. When you look away, looking to the side or up is better than looking down, which can seem like you want to close the conversation.

Check your posture and make sure it’s open – avoid crossed arms or crossed legs, which can make you look ‘closed’ or defensive. Leaning slightly forward or sideways whilst sitting can show that you’re listening – as can a slight tilt of your head or resting your head on your hand.

2. “Listen” to non-verbal cues too

Pay attention to what the other person is saying with their body language 

Facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures can tell you just as much as what is being said in words. Pay attention to what the other person is saying with their body language - are they smiling, for example, or are their arms crossed defensively, or are they rubbing their eyes as if they're tired or upset. Even on the phone, you can learn a lot from the other person’s voice, which might sound subdued or upbeat.


Don’t interrupt

 Being interrupted is frustrating for the other person – it gives the impression that you think you’re more important, or that you don’t have time for what they have to say. If you are naturally a quicker thinker or speaker, force yourself to slow down so that the other person can express themselves. Remember, a pause or a few seconds of silence doesn’t mean that you have to jump in. Letting the other person speak will make it easier for you to understand their message, too.

Even interruptions that respond to something that they’ve said can be distracting if it means the conversation gets sidetracked from what they were trying to tell you about. If this does happen, steer the conversation back to “So, you were telling me about…”.

4. Listen without judging, or jumping to conclusions

If you start reacting emotionally to what’s being said, then it can get in the way of listening to what is said next. Try to focus on listening. Equally, don’t assume that you know what’s going to be said next.

5. Don’t start planning what to say next

You can’t listen and prepare at the same time.

6. Show that you’re listening

Nod your head, smile and make small noises like “yes” and “uh huh”, to show that you’re listening and encourage the speaker to continue. Don’t look at your watch, fidget or play with your hair or fingernails.

7. Don’t impose your opinions or solutions

It’s not always easy, but lending a listening, supportive ear can be much more rewarding than telling someone what they should do. When a loved one has health problems is a time when they probably want to tell you how they’re feeling, and get things off their chest, rather than have lots of advice about what they should be doing.

In other areas of life too, most people prefer to come to their own solutions. If you really must share your brilliant solution, ask first if they want to hear it – say something like “Would you like to hear my suggestions?”


Stay focused

If you're finding it difficult to focus on what someone is saying, try repeating their words in your head as they say them – this will reinforce what they’re saying and help you to concentrate. Try to shut out distractions like other conversations going on in the room. And definitely don’t look at your phone.

9. Ask questions

Asking relevant questions can show that you’ve been listening and help clarify what has been said.

If you’re not sure if you’ve understood correctly, wait until the speaker pauses and then say something like “Did you mean that x…” Or “I’m not sure if I understood what you were saying about…”

You should also use open questions where you can, like “How did that make you feel?” “What did you do next?”

10. Paraphrase and summarise

Repeating what has been said really shows you’ve been paying attention, and allows the speaker to correct you if you haven’t understood

Sometimes called reflecting, this is repeating what has been said to show that you understand it. This may seem awkward at first, but really shows you’ve been paying attention, and allows the speaker to correct you if you haven’t understood correctly.

If you’re not sure how to do this, try starting a sentence with: "Sounds like you are saying…”

And remember….practice makes perfect

Old habits are hard to break, so you’ll need to make a conscious effort to become an active listener. Try spending a week in which you summarise the main points or outcomes at the end of each conversation or meeting. This will help you get into the habit.

  •  Get advice for talking about health problems.

10 Steps To Effective Listening


by Dianne Schilling

You might also enjoy this article:  9 Small Steps That Will Make You Happier, Starting Now

In today's high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important then ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages.

Here are 10 tips to help you develop effective listening skills.

Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.

Talking to someone while they scan the room, study a computer screen, or gaze out the window is like trying to hit a moving target. How much of the person's divided attention you are actually getting? Fifty percent? Five percent? If the person were your child you might demand, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," but that's not the sort of thing we say to a lover, friend or colleague.

In most Western cultures, eye contact is considered a basic ingredient of effective communication. When we talk, we look each other in the eye. That doesn't mean that you can't carry on a conversation from across the room, or from another room, but if the conversation continues for any length of time, you (or the other person) will get up and move. The desire for better communication pulls you together.

Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don't look at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances. Excuse the other guy, but stay focused yourself.

Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.

Now that you've made eye contact, relax. You don't have to stare fixedly at the other person. You can look away now and then and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive. The dictionary says that to "attend" another person means to:

  • be present
  • give attention
  • apply or direct yourself
  • pay attention
  • remain ready to serve

Mentally screen out distractions, like background activity and noise. In addition, try not to focus on the speaker's accent or speech mannerisms to the point where they become distractions. Finally, don't be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.

Step 3: Keep an open mind.

Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things she tells you. If what she says alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don't say to yourself, "Well, that was a stupid move. " As soon as you indulge in judgmental bemusements, you've compromised your effectiveness as a listener.

Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside her brain. You don't know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you'll find out is by listening.

Don't be a sentence-grabber. Occasionally my partner can't slow his mental pace enough to listen effectively, so he tries to speed up mine by interrupting and finishing my sentences. This usually lands him way off base, because he is following his own train of thought and doesn't learn where my thoughts are headed. After a couple of rounds of this, I usually ask, "Do you want to have this conversation by yourself, or do you want to hear what I have to say?" I wouldn't do that with everyone, but it works with him.

Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.

Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.

When it's your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can't rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying.

Finally, concentrate on what is being said, even if it bores you. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.

Step 5: Don't interrupt and don't impose your "solutions."

Children used to be taught that it's rude to interrupt. I'm not sure that message is getting across anymore. Certainly the opposite is being modeled on the majority of talk shows and reality programs, where loud, aggressive, in-your-face behavior is condoned, if not encouraged.

Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:

  • "I'm more important than you are. "
  • "What I have to say is more interesting, accurate or relevant."
  • "I don't really care what you think."
  • "I don't have time for your opinion."
  • "This isn't a conversation, it's a contest, and I'm going to win."

We all think and speak at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is onyouto relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the guy who has trouble expressing himself.

When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions. Most of us don't want your advice anyway. If we do, we'll ask for it. Most of us prefer to figure out our own solutions. We need you to listen and help us do that. Somewhere way down the line, if you are absolutely bursting with a brilliant solution, at least get the speaker's permission. Ask, "Would you like to hear my ideas?"

Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.

When you don't understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, "Back up a second. I didn't understand what you just said about…"

Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.

At lunch, a colleague is excitedly telling you about her trip to Vermont and all the wonderful things she did and saw. In the course of this chronicle, she mentions that she spent some time with a mutual friend. You jump in with, "Oh, I haven't heard from Alice in ages. How is she?" and, just like that, discussion shifts to Alice and her divorce, and the poor kids, which leads to a comparison of custody laws, and before you know it an hour is gone and Vermont is a distant memory.

This particular conversational affront happens all the time. Our questions lead people in directions that have nothing to do with where they thought they were going. Sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, but very often we don't.

When you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track by saying something like, "It was great to hear about Alice, but tell me more about your adventure in Vermont. "

Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.

If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when she expresses joy, fearful when she describes her fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening.

To experience empathy, you have to put yourself in the other person's place and allow yourself to feel what it is like to be her at that moment. This is not an easy thing to do. It takes energy and concentration. But it is a generous and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like nothing else does.

Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.

Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker's feelings. "You must be thrilled!" "What a terrible ordeal for you." "I can see that you are confused." If the speaker's feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed "hmmm" or "uh huh."

The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening, and that you are following her train of thought—not off indulging in your own fantasies while she talks to the ether.

In task situations, regardless of whether at work or home, always restate instructions and messages to be sure you understand correctly.

Step 10: Pay attention to what isn't said—to nonverbal cues.

If you exclude email, the majority of direct communication is probably nonverbal. We glean a great deal of information about each other without saying a word. Even over the telephone, you can learn almost as much about a person from the tone and cadence of her voice than from anything she says. When I talk to my best friend, it doesn't matter what we chat about, if I hear a lilt and laughter in her voice, I feel reassured that she's doing well.

Face to face with a person, you can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. These are clues you can't ignore. When listening, remember that words convey only a fraction of the message.

Listening Skills Exercise: Summarize, Summarize, Summarize!

For at least one week, at the end of every conversation in which information is exchanged, conclude with a summary statement. In conversations that result in agreements about future obligations or activities, summarizing will not only ensure accurate follow-through, it will feel perfectly natural. In conversations that do not include agreements, if summarizing feels awkward just explain that you are doing it as an exercise.

Dianne Schilling is a writer, editor, graphic artist and instructional designer who specializes in the development of educational materials and customized training programs for business and industry. She holds a masters degree in counseling and is a founding partner of WomensMedia.

You might also enjoy this article:  9 Small Steps That Will Make You Happier, Starting Now.

Listening skills: 10 basic principles

A person among people Practices how to

A good listener will hear not only what has been said, but also what the interlocutor has kept silent or said only partially. Such a listener not only pays attention to words, but also recognizes body language and notices inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal messages.

For example, if someone says: “I am happy with life” through gritted teeth or almost crying, we must understand that verbal and non-verbal messages do not converge, which means that the person is not saying what he thinks.

So, the ability to listen involves not only hearing, but also vision. A good listener adheres to 10 basic principles.

1. Do not interrupt

Listen to your interlocutor, do not interrupt, do not finish sentences for him. When he finishes, you can ask questions to make sure you understand each other.

2. Relax, tune in to listen

We are easily distracted by extraneous thoughts: what will be for lunch, when I have to leave to catch the train, will it rain ... Try not to think about it and concentrate on the speaker.

3. Help the other person feel at ease

Let your counterpart know that you are listening and that you are interested. Nod or use an appropriate gesture or phrase to encourage him to continue talking.

Maintain eye contact, but do not look too closely. Show that you heard and understood everything that was said.

4. Eliminate distractions

Do not draw mechanically on a piece of paper that comes to hand, rustle papers, look out the window. Avoid unnecessary distractions. This behavior disrupts the listening process and signals to the speaker that the speaker is bored or distracted.

5. Be empathetic

Try to understand the other person's point of view. Look at the problem through his eyes. Let go of preconceived notions. With an open mind, we can truly empathize with the speaker.

If his opinion does not agree with yours, wait a bit and come up with a counterargument, while remaining open to other people's opinions and views.

6. Be patient

Even a long pause does not mean that the interlocutor has finished speaking. Sometimes it takes time to formulate thoughts and find a way to express them. Be patient and let the speaker continue at their convenience.

7. Try to remain impartial

Don't let the other person's annoying habits or behavior distract you from what he is saying. Everyone has their own way of communicating: some are nervous or shy, others wave their arms, others have a bright accent or dialect. Some walk back and forth while talking, while others stand still.

Concentrate on the words, try not to pay attention to the style of communication.

8. Listen to the tone

Loudness and tone of voice can add a lot to what is being said. A good speaker uses them to grab the audience's attention and highlight important points.

9. Listen to the general meaning, not to individual words

It is important to see the whole picture, not just details. Perhaps this is the most difficult thing - to guess the general meaning of what was said, connecting different pieces of information. Concentration and the absence of distractions will help with this.

10. Watch for non-verbal messages

Gestures, facial expressions, eye movements are all important. We listen not only with our ears: our eyes are also involved in the process. It is important to constantly monitor the signs of non-verbal communication, this can give us additional information.

Text: Alina Nikolskaya Photo source: Getty Images

New on the site

How to behave on the first date so that it does not become the last: 2 main rules pair

“I look at the success of others and fall into apathy because of my failures”

“Blindness reminds me of the beauty of the world around me”: author of a magazine for deaf-blind people about life, joy and optimism

Freedom in relationships: what are they border

“I started my career again at 45”: a personal experience – 5 coaching tips

“Why do I always choose what will hurt me?”

“Mom is not interested in me at all. How to fix it?"

The art of listening

The ability to listen as a way of "accepting" the interlocutor often increases his self-esteem and is very important for relationships between people. Those who are listened to usually appreciate this skill in their interlocutors and make contact with them. Why? Because the feeling of "demand", "acceptance" is a basic, universal human need. We are more likely to make contact with those who satisfy this need of ours, and not with those who do not know how to do this.

The ability to listen is a powerful force that reduces the effects of stress and psychological stress. When people know they are talking to someone who really listens, and not someone who is already prejudiced, they are willing to share their ideas and thoughts.

Listening is a fundamental skill that affects the quality and effectiveness of business communication. But despite this, many of us do not know how to listen.

There are conditions that a good listener must comply with.

  • Condition 1. No side thoughts. And because the speed of thinking is about four times the speed of speech. Use "free time" for critical analysis and conclusions heard.
  • Condition 2. While you are listening, you must not think about your next question, much less prepare counterarguments. This is a very common mistake that is costly for us, so we need to make every effort to minimize this shortcoming.
  • Condition 3. You should concentrate on the subject of the conversation and push out everything secondary from your head. It is especially difficult to follow the performance of unprepared speakers (those who do not know rhetoric) due to confusion in terms and concepts, unsystematic presentation and a large number of secondary and unimportant facts.

To learn listening, like any other art, requires aspiration, attention and practice. People want to learn to listen for a variety of reasons. This may be due to the desire to improve relationships in the family, at school or at work. It happens that we want to achieve greater harmony, respect and understanding in relations with people. Sometimes a person wants to get close to someone in this way. Sometimes we just need to pour out our soul to someone: to talk about what worries us and does not give us peace. Or maybe we are tired of rushing headlong through life and want to stop to look around and take a breath. Or we need to prevent a brewing conflict. In any case, if you have decided to master the art of listening, get ready for hard training.

The first step is to understand why listening is so important.

The second is to start learning the art of listening. Try to practice at every opportunity.

Good Listening Principles:

  1. Never interrupt a conversation partner. Let him express his thought completely.
  2. Get rid of irritants - put down the book or turn off the TV.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Move your chair closer and lean slightly towards the other person.
  5. Open up - look at your partner, do not cross your legs or arms.
  6. Respond verbally and non-verbally to his words - with a nod of your head, a smile, show that you are actively listening and that you care about what he says.

Active listening means that the listener receives information, processes it, and responds with an opinion. It is very important to emphasize what the partner says. When he tells you something, you should tell him his own thought in your own words, starting, for example, like this: “As I understand it, you meant ...” or “So you say that ...”. This avoids misunderstandings at some points in the dialogue. Equally important are clarifications that help to more clearly understand what exactly the partner had in mind. A clarification might look like this: "What did you think when I said that ..." or "How did you react to the fact that I ...".

We always think that listening is natural. Meanwhile, if you start practicing the ability to listen effectively, you will notice that this is not such a simple science.

Learn more