In an increasingly interconnected global community, communication skills are more important than ever. Like personal relationships, our ability to communicate determines the strength and durability of all our partnerships. The first step in effective communication is listening; however, listening is a skill that requires practice.
Learning how to listen is more challenging than most people assume. Far too often individuals allow their preconceived notions and opinions to interfere with what others are trying to say. Bad listeners hear only fragments of what others are trying to communicate then fill in the blanks with what they presume others believe. This, in turn, inhibits communication between individuals.
A good listener is someone who helps others verbalize what they are feeling or thinking. Individuals with strong communication skills are able to push down their natural urge to inject their own viewpoints and remarks, so others can speak. Beyond creating an opportunity for listening, gifted communicators also learn how to ask questions that extend the thinking of the speaker to help him or her verbalize his or her true viewpoints while avoiding steering the conversation.
Furthermore, people not only verbally interrupt each other, they also mentally dispute each other’s beliefs. Consequently, good listening begins with shutting your mouth and quieting your internal voice. On the other hand, giving someone the opportunity to be heard is simply not enough for most people. As a consequence, once you learn to listen it is time to learn how to engage others in interactive conversations.
Practicing listening skills takes place during each and every conversation. A conversation takes place when both individuals listen and truly interact. Interaction involves directly responding to the substance of the other speaker’s words, thus asking appropriate questions then giving the speaker a chance to respond can add depth to a conversation and help the speaker know you are listening to what they want to say.
The best way to practice listening skills is to hold interactive conversations with all sorts of people. It is particularly useful to listen to people who have difficulty communicating their ideas, especially children, elderly, and anyone else who might have difficultly communicating with your age group or your other demographics. As your listening skills improve, it will become easier to listen to alternative opinions on far more complex and deeper subjects. Moreover, helping others better communicate is a great way to improve listening skills.