Sorry, I wasn’t listening: 5 ways to model better listening skills


I have a confession to make when it comes to listening skills. I’m an interrupter.

When I already know what someone is trying to say, or finish saying, or I have a point to make, I just cut right in.

I know I shouldn’t do it. I know it’s rude. It drives me crazy when other people do it, so why do I?

Most of us aren’t very good listeners. It may not be interrupting for you, but I’m guessing there is some bad habit you bring to the listening side of your communication.

I think it’s safe to say we can all use some help on this. Listening is often referred to as the #1 communication skill necessary to be successful in business. I would argue that goes for home as well.

Here’s why improving your listening skills are so very important.

  • Good listening prevents miscommunication.
  • Good listening reduces frustration for the speaker.
  • Listening is required for all types of communication.
  • On an average day we will spend over half of our time (55%) engaged in listening.

Becoming a better listener means breaking some habits and developing some new ones. Here are five ways you can improve your listening skills.

1. Be Self Aware. 

Most of us aren’t aware we are as bad at listening as we really are. The first and most important way to improve your listening is to know your own listening style. There are three good ways to do this:

1) Ask someone you trust to give you honest and specific feedback on how well you listen. You may be surprised that others don’t see you as the same way you see yourself.

2) When you are in a conversation, pay attention to how you are responding. Be aware of your body posture, your facial expression and what you are thinking about.  Are you focused?

3) Take my listening skills quiz and see how you do.

2. Be interested and attentive.  

Forget about your cell phone and other distractions. Maintain comfortable eye contact to show that you really are listening. Then focus on what the person is saying, not how you will respond, or start thinking about anything else. If your mind wanders off, ask the person to back up and repeat what they said. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what you are hearing.

3. Be patient.  

People think faster than they speak. On average, a person speaks from 125-175 words a minute. The average number of words you’re able to listen to is much more than that – around 450. 

Practice listening as though you have plenty of time (even if you think you don’t). In other words, slow your listening down. Don’t jump ahead or practice your reply in your head, just listen and be patient. And, when it’s your turn to talk, take a pause and think before you speak.

4. Don’t Interrupt.  

Don’t cut someone off before they have finished speaking. Ever. And if you accidentally do, apologize (and then shut up). Sometimes it’s really difficult to not jump right in to and correct misconceptions or complete a sentence for someone. Make a conscious effort to respect the right for someone to finish their thought and express their opinion without interruption.

5. Listen to nonverbal messages. 

Some experts say as much as 93% of our communication is nonverbal.  So, it’s critical to listen more to the nonverbal messages going on than to the words you hear.  Pay close attention to the tone of voice, facial expressions, energy level, posture, or changes in behavior patterns.  Do the nonverbal cues match the message you are getting?

The Listening Challenge

  • Pick one of these five listening areas to work on.
  • Every conversation you are in, work on improving this skill and modeling it to others.

One of the best ways to encourage good listening in others is to model it yourself. In other words, if you want to be heard, you better start hearing better yourself.

It’s takes time, energy and commitment to be a better listener but the payoff is huge. It can improve your work performance, opportunities for advancement and your relationships at home.

Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She coaches small business managers on HR issues and provides training on workplace communication to organizational groups.

In addition, she hosts a twice-annual Women’s Summit that brings women together to learn how to become more confident communicators.

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