Sharpen up your Listening Skills

Do you listen… NO I mean really LISTEN to people?

Do you find people switch off when you’re talking?

Would you like to improve your communication skills?

One of the keys to communicating more effectively is to polish up your listening skills.

Listening is a learned life skill. It’s not something everyone is born with an innate ability to do and it takes a little conscious practice and effort to do it successfully.

Did you know that the best conversationalists often have the best listening skills NOT the gift of the gab?

That’s right. If you want to be a better, more lively and interesting talker (conversationalist), then you need to stop talking and upgrade your listening life skills.

Scoff not. It’s true.

We teach our children to speak. We teach adults to speak in public but, no-one really teaches us how to listen. Is it any wonder than we do so little of it?

Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak. Epictetus

Here’s what I did – and you CANDo too  – to improve listening skills:

Body Language

Make the effort to be aware of your body. I crouch down on my knees to talk to the children at their level or place a hand on their forearm. I try to stop what I’m doing and look at my partner when he’s talking to me. With others, I’m conscious to keep myself relaxed and open and avoid crossing my legs and arms as it’s a bit of a defensive posture that may sub-consciously intimate I’m switching off. I also try to make frequent – but not constant – eye contact and smile.

Keep an Open Mind

A conversation is a two-way expression of facts or opinions. Everyone has different opinions. Just because a speaker’s is different to yours doesn’t mean your opinion is under attack (see Tools for Keeping Cool). It took time and I don’t always manage it, but I now really try my best to listen attentively with an open and flexible mind.

Concentrate Fully

This is something I also often struggled with. Keep LISTENING. It’s so tempting to start mentally preparing a reply, defence, opinion or your next question. STOP and just LISTEN. Ideas may pop in. Hold them and see what happens.

Offer Encouragement

The body language I mentioned earlier is important throughout any conversation so keep the visual encouragement coming with eye contact and the odd nod of your head. You can give oral encouragement too with a “Mmm”, “Yes”, or “I see”. All these things will tell the speaker that you’re listening and keen for them to keep going.

Don’t Interrupt

This is one of my pet hates when I’m talking. Avoid interrupting or chivvying along. Let the speaker go at their own pace, don’t rush them and keep your comments to yourself until they’ve finished.

Silence can be Golden

Give your Inner Imp Self-Discipline a little exercise and hold off on rushing to fill a silence when the speaker’s finished. People will often share their best thoughts and ideas after they’ve had time to compose their thoughts. Jumping in will rob them of the opportunity. Instead, simply nod your head for a short while as though your thinking about what they’ve just said.

Don’t Judge, Ask a Question

Unless asked, try to keep an opinion or judgement to yourself. People feel good about themselves if they believe an idea or opinion is their own. Instead of giving them yours, ask them questions that provoke thought in your direction. “What do you think about…”, “What’s your opinion of…” or “Have you ever…”.


Misunderstandings are all too common. Be sure you’ve understood by repeating back anything you’ve heard that’s important and you want to make sure you’ve got right. With names or details, it’s a good way to remember them as you get to say them aloud. Jot anything down the minute you get the chance.

Know When to Stop

The last trick with listening is knowing when to stop listening. If someone is abusing your ears with inappropriate things at inconvenient times, you have to have grab Courage and stop them politely. Negative gossip, continual moaning or bitching will do nothing but pull you down – and it won’t do the mood of the person that’s doing it much good either. If there’s a problem, wake up your Inner Imp Diplomacy get him to come up with ideas to encourage the speaker to do something about whatever they’re upset or being negative about.

Thank you for listening.

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