Most people don’t realize that listening is a skill in itself, and it can be a difficult one to master. Poor listening skills can lead to misinterpretation of emotion, fact or even motive. People with strong listening skills have an advantage in building relationships and learning new information. Luckily, like any other skill, listening habits can be improved through practice.
Encourage the Speaker
Good listeners support the speaker by providing him with some kind of positive reinforcement. This can come in many forms. A quick encouraging phrase like “That’s very interesting” can do much to support the speaker’s confidence, thus making for more engaging communication. Asking the speaker for clarification regarding certain details his story can also demonstrate interest and provide encouragement. A good listener must strive to actively support the speaker.
Look at the Speaker
Looking the speaker directly in the eyes as he delivers his message is essential to good communication. Looking away from the person speaking to you can send the nonverbal message that your mind is elsewhere, and the conversation can suffer. Also, it’s important to take note of the speaker’s body movements and gesture as he delivers his message. Keeping track of a person’s nonverbal cues can help you to fully understand his message. Sometimes a simple hand gesture can dramatically alter the meaning of the actual words being spoken, and if you were busy staring off into space you’d miss this important part of the message.
It’s not enough to offer the speaker an occasional word of encouragement. Good listeners provide constant feedback in the form of non-verbal encouragement. Friendly head-nods, well-placed smiles and a confident, inviting posture can do much to convey your undivided attention and bolster the speaker’s confidence. An appropriate level of laughter at just the right time, or a genuine, commiserate frown, can demonstrate empathy with the speaker’s story.
A good listener defers rebuttal until the speaker has said his piece. While a person is still speaking, you should do nothing other than to absorb and empathize with what he’s trying to say. Mentally preparing counter-arguments while the person is still speaking cannot only prevent you from understanding the full message, but also betray your inattentiveness via non-verbal cues. Whether you agree with the message or not, it’s important to wait until the speaker has finished talking before you respectfully offer your two cents.
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