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Characteristics of Good Listening Skills

by Freddie Silver

Good listening skills are essential if you want to maintain successful professional and personal interactions. If you don't listen well, chances are you've experienced some disappointment and frustration in your relationships. Excellent listening means more than simply hearing what's been said. It means paying attention and fully understanding the speaker's point of view. Knowing the characteristics of good listening skills and practicing them can help you improve how you communicate.

Reasons to Listen

People listen to get information for work, learning or entertainment. But, surprisingly, most don't listen well. Scott Williams of Wright University, suggests that people only listen to about 25 percent of what they hear. Listening attentively can help you understand people, motivate them and build trust. James Manktelow, CEO of Mindtools, suggests that good listeners build stronger relationships with those around them because speakers appreciate knowing they successfully transmitted their message. It's beneficial to develop a reputation as a good listener because professionally and privately people will gravitate towards you, sharing confidences and seeking your advice.

How to Listen Effectively

The most basic listening skill is paying attention. This means maintaining focus on what the speaker is saying as well as how it is said. Don't get distracted by other things and don't allow interruptions. For example, when you reply to a text message, you can't pay full attention to the speaker. Keep your eyes and your mind focused on the speaker. Sitting up straight or changing your position can help keep your mind from wandering. Think about what the speaking is saying and why she's saying it. Don't begin formulating a response until you're sure you've fully grasped the intended message.

Show You're Listening

Good listeners make the speaker aware they are listening. Turn toward the speaker, maintain eye contact, smile and nod to indicate your engagement. Don't interrupt, even if it's to add a supportive comment or ask a question, unless the speaker pauses. If you do ask a question or make a comment, don't shift to a new topic, warns Dianne Schilling, in her article, "10 Steps To Effective Listening," on the "Forbes" magazine website. For example, if your spouse is describing the failure of a big business deal she experienced, don't start sharing details about your frustration at work.

Giving Positive Feedback

The best way to connect with the speaker is to demonstrate you heard and understood the message by giving good feedback. Show you understood, not only the message, but what the speaker was feeling. Observing the speaker's nonverbal cues helps. For example, crossing the arms, frowning and raising the voice usually indicate anger. Try reframing what was said. For example, saying, "I know you were disappointed that I arrived so late and you worried about me," shows you were listening and empathize with the speaker's feelings.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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