7 ways to hone your listening skills

  • In this article, I ask you to consider if you are an active listener or a passive listener and share 7 ways to hone your listening skills

    What is the difference between hearing and listening?  This seems a simple enough question.  It’s obvious, surely.

    When you are hearing someone speak, you’re not necessarily paying too much attention.  Maybe there’s a conversation taking place nearby which you are not a part of, which has no relevance for you.  And when you’re listening, well, you’re listening.  Aren’t you?

    Why is it important? 

    • 85% of our learning is derived from listening
    • Listeners are distracted, forgetful and preoccupied 75 per cent of the time
    • Most listeners recall only 50 per cent of what they have heard immediately after hearing someone say it
    • People listen up to 450 words per minute but think at about 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute


    • Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work  Source 

    Are you an ‘active’ and ‘passive’ listener?

    How well are you actually listening? There are actually two types of listening – ‘passive’ and ‘active’.  We’ve all been guilty of passive listening at times.  Maybe we’ve occasionally taken part in conversations that haven’t been of that much interest to us and our attention has strayed.  Perhaps the speaker wandered off-topic and rambled on a bit too much.  Maybe we had somewhere to be and were keen to get away.  Maybe we were just a bit bored…

    ‘Active’ listening is something that we do with more than just our ears.  It is a participatory activity that requires effort and concentration.  It’s not always easy to do.  For instance, when you are engaged in conversation with someone, do you find that you are actually just waiting for them to stop speaking so that you can take your turn?  Ask yourself, in this situation, are you listening, or are you waiting?

    Listening to reply

    If you often find that you are waiting, then you are doing what is known as ‘listening to reply’ – formulating your response and being so busy thinking about what you want to say that you may very well miss the point of what the other person is saying.  And how meaningful can a conversation really be if both parties are so desperate to say their piece that neither is paying proper attention to the other?

    Here are seven tips on how to become an ‘active’ listener, rather than a ‘passive’ one:

    1. Don’t be impatient: Conversation is a two-way street.  You will get your turn.  And who knows, perhaps what the other person is saying may lead your thoughts and opinions into unexpected directions.  But only if you take the time to listen to them properly.  Because if you don’t listen to them, they certainly won’t listen to you.
    2. Don’t let yourself become distracted: Once you start playing with a pen, twisting your hair, watching the clock or checking your phone, you will soon find that you are no longer even hearing what the other person is saying, let alone listening to them.
    3. Eye contact and body language: Demonstrate your interest by making it clear that the person speaking has your full attention.  Lean in towards them, maintain eye contact, nod and smile at appropriate times.
    4. Don’t interrupt: Nobody likes to be cut off mid-flow or to have their sentences finished for them.  Hold off from jumping in, but be prepared to respond in a meaningful way when the time is right.
    5. Ask questions: You can demonstrate that you are listening and understanding by asking questions.  This will give the speaker the chance to explore their thought processes and expand on their subject matter more fully.  It will also show that you are both interested in, and fully committed to, the conversation.
    6. Don’t judge: You may be asked for your advice and opinions, but you may not.  Try not to be judgemental or to jump to conclusions.  Sometimes all that is needed is moral support.
    7. Repeat, paraphrase, and summarise: A good way to demonstrate that you have taken in all of the salient points is to repeat, paraphrase and summarise in your response.  Then respond to the points which have been made, one by one, introducing your own thoughts and opinions on the subject matter.

    If you can do all of this, rather than just impatiently waiting for the chance to say what was in your head all along, then well done, you truly can describe yourself as an ‘active listener’, rather than a ‘passive’ one.


    For more top tips, make sure you subscribe to my weekly newsletter Communicating with Clarity 


    Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash


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