A How To: Improving Listening Skills

So you want to listen to what someone has to say? Do you really want to listen, take in, and comprehend the message someone is sharing with you as you read this? Well then what are you doing looking at this and not paying attention to them!

We could call this lesson one – Perhaps the most difficult thing to do for us individual humans with our own race car engines revving inside our skulls. What was lesson one? Paying attention! 

Paying attention requires a certain subset of skills. I know, I know. This is getting absurd – First we had to pay attention, now we found out that it requires us to do other things like focus, breathe relaxed, engage with your speaker, and resist the urge to make it about you.

Lesson 2: Focus
What does it mean to focus? Well it means you are not thinking about what you will eat later, what you ate earlier, who you are eating with tomorrow, or the thing you thought about in the shower this morning (potentially eating). Yeah we all love food, but it’s a choice to let your mind jump to these things outside of what is going on in front of you right now. Yes, I threw distractions at you on purpose. I want you to practice quieting those wandering thoughts and urges. It isn’t easy – It is a choice to let them persist and creep around in your peripherals or even take the center of your attention. You are capable of exerting some self control.

Wow, now I’m asking you to not only use self control, but practice it too? Maybe even exert it! Where does it end? The point is you have to choose to be a little selfless, intent on giving your undivided attention to what is before you at that time (If it’s important to listen to who is speaking – Here I go bringing up making a decision on what is important again).

With all that’s constantly going on it’s important to stay relaxed and breathe easy to help with focus. Breathing at all times is the number one necessary thing you have to do to stay living. If you quit for any period of time beyond how long you can hold your breath your body goes into a tantrum, and you probably die. So breathe relaxed, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Keeping it level does weigh on our ability to focus and comprehend what is going on.

Lesson 3: The almighty engagement
And I’m not talking about getting married. I’m talking about being active in your listening. It keeps your brain awake and focused. If you aren’t apart of the conversation/listening you are somewhere else and not paying attention. This doesn’t mean you are looking for your Q to talk at the person. You don’t have to utter a word to be engaged in listening.

How the hell do I engage without speaking? You do it in two ways, the first being eye contact. That’s right – The old look em’ in the eyes and mean it. As someone speaks to you, direct eye contact speaks back saying, “I am intent on paying attention to what you have to say to me.” Of course this means you must follow through on those ‘words’ – To give someone that engagement, but really be thinking about what you’re doing later or why they are rocking that outdated hairstyle is rather dishonest of you. So I ask that you use this eye contact with respect or don’t do it at all. The second part to this is body language. Whether you are sitting or standing It all comes back to being relaxed and open with your gestures. You want nice easy movements with relaxed breathing to convey that you aren’t restless or thinking about something else.

Lesson 4: Not making it about you
Also known as listening with the intent to understand, and not respond. If you are simply waiting to respond the entire time someone is speaking how well are you comprehending what they are telling you? Rhetorical question. You’ve neglected to actually listen. Your goal should be to pick up on key words and phrases, and then when the time comes and the person wishes to hear what you have to say (If they want you to speak on it) Go ahead and ask them some questions using those key points they spoke of to show you heard what they relayed to you, and that you are intent on having a crystal clear understanding. This assures that you’ve heard them and gives a warm feeling of validation.

Lesson 5: What Was Said Without Words
It is one thing to listen and understand, but another to listen and make it felt that you have listened attentively and picked up on what the person is trying to relay – Including what isn’t necessarily said outright! Believe it. People will tell you things without actually using their words and hope for you to understand.

Woah. That’s some advanced shit. Listening to what someone is saying and understanding what they haven’t actually said. This requires practice and a good level of emotional intelligence. Don’t feel bad if you weren’t able to read everything between the lines. It takes a lot of practice, but just be aware of the bigger picture. Listen for tones of voice, watch their body language, their energy level – tie in your knowledge of their circumstances, the environment, or things you’ve previously have spoken with this person about. All these things can give insights into what isn’t being said.

Remember that all of these things take practice. The good news is that there is not better time to start than now! There are numerous opportunities to practice and improve your listening skills everyday – There is always someone who wants to talk 🙂