Improve Your Listening Skills

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There’s a big difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Listening is active. Hearing is passive. If you want to succeed in romance you need to exercise your listening muscle.  The goal in listening is two-part: 1. Maintain a high level of fidelity between the speaker’s original message and your re-creation of that message.  2. Make the speaker feel heard.

Sometimes it’s hard to listen. We all struggle with a variety of barriers to effective listening.  Awareness can improve your ability to overcome listening barriers. There are two main categories of listening barriers. The first category is external barriers, and the other is internal barriers.

External Listening Barriers

  • Setting – temperature, poor seating, odors, distance between speaker and listener, objects you’re tempted to fidget with (phone)
  • Environmental distractions – Running equipment, music, phones, interruptions, other conversations

Internal Listening Barriers

  • Anxiety – Competing personal worries and concerns (Is he/she going to reject me?).
  • Close-mindedness – You may disagree with the speaker’s ideas
  • Unwillingness to listen to complex or detailed information – Listening to someone talk about advanced marine microbiology takes work.
  • Preconceived notions – Cause you to hear only what you want to hear. Molding the speaker’s message to conform to your beliefs.
  • Impatience – Speaker may talk slowly or hesitate.

As you may have guessed, internal listening barriers are more difficult to control than external barriers. Why? Overcoming internal barriers requires a high level of self-awareness and discipline. You need to catch yourself before your mind starts to wander, and detect when you aren’t listening. You have to constantly bring your attention back to the speaker.

While it is difficult to overcome internal listening barriers it isn’t impossible.  With hard work and good strategy you can become a great listener.  There are 3 keys to managing your listening behavior.

  • Stay focused – Take long deep breaths.  It’ll help keep you from talking.
  • Capture the message – Eliminate external barriers (if possible), and ask the speaker to repeat if you didn’t hear the message.
  • Help the speaker – Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes, and put your ego on hold.  Avoid distracting verbal comments like, “uh-huh”. Refrain from distracting nonverbal queues like fidgeting, slumping, staring blankly, and nodding in agreement.

You may want to take some time to prepare yourself for conversation. Clear your mind of all thoughts, worries, and concerns. As the conversation progresses have enough self-awareness to recognize when your mental concentration has strayed from the speaker.  Respond to the realization that a mental lapse has occurred by exercising self-discipline.

Stop daydreaming!

You can improve your listening performance in a number of ways, but I recommend a couple of specific methods. First, meditate on a regular basis. It doesn’t take long.  Spend 5-10 minutes a day in silence. Concentrate on the present moment. Let your worries fade into the background. Be here now. Next, challenge yourself to learn one thing from each interaction. If you can walk away with a new piece of information it means you’re listening effectively.

Good listening is a challenge for some of us, but the rewards are great. By listening carefully you’ll notice things your POI doesn’t say, and pick up on verbal and nonverbal queues others might miss. There’s no substitute for good listening skills. Failure to listen is worse than going into a conversation blindfolded with your mouth taped shut.

Image by Parabol.