Six Listening Skills That Will Improve Your Relationships

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

When someone is talking to you, are you thinking about what you are going to say next? Or what you are going to have for lunch? Or how frustrated you are with something utterly irrelevant to the conversation? Or are you looking at the tiny computer in your hand? Multitasking is not a real thing. More on that another day.

Remember that scene in White Men Can’t Jump when Woody Harrelson pops in a Jimi Hendrix cassette and Wesley Snipes attempts to educate him about the difference between listening and hearing? That scene really stuck with me, because it didn’t make any sense. The writers got that argument completely wrong.

If we are physically able to hear, it is a natural function of our body. We hear noise without any effort. On the other hand, listening requires conscious action. When sound hits your brain, you have to work to understand the meaning. Listening is a critical communication skill that allows you to learn and gather information. Listening improves relationships, produces better solutions, helps earn respect, and reduces conflict. This skill takes constant practice and has the power to change your mindset.

You can’t fake active listening. Start with these six tips:

  1. Look like you are listening. Give the speaker your full attention. Face the person and lean slightly forward. Stop fidgeting. Take your phone off the table and put it away. Look into the speaker’s eyes 90 percent of the time.
  2. Silence is golden. Encourage the speaker by smiling, nodding, or demonstrating some sort of understanding. Don’t interrupt. Attend to the style and pace of the other person.
  3. Reflect and clarify. Paraphrase what the speaker said in your own words. This helps define the message for both the speaker and the listener. Do your best to read between the lines for the big picture idea. Ask if it sounds right.
  4. Don’t judge. Once the judgment is out there, the speaker feels the need to accommodate your view. Criticizing creates natural defensiveness. Praising may dismiss a concern instead of help. Diagnosing means the speaker’s character is now the topic. Name-calling could end the conversation and damage the relationship.
  5. Stick to the subject. Avoid moving attention away from the speaker by telling your own story. Avoid starting a logical argument when the speaker is clearly trying to express an emotional perspective. Reassuring the speaker that everything will be okay dismisses the speaker’s comments as petty.
  6. Only give advice when asked. Wait until you understand the real problem. The other person may develop their own solution by talking it out.

Angela Wiggins is a leadership coach and founder of Earnest Journey, a practice committed to helping women lead with courage and influence change. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Angela was surrounded by women leaders creatively solving problems. This influence, along with a robust support system, was integral in her career path from designer to entrepreneur to leader to coach.