Four Instant Ways To Improve Your Listening Skills

Ethan F. Becker

By Ethan F. Becker

Everyone – including your significant other, your boss, your employees, your neighbors, and your family members – wants to feel heard and valued. Yet we are not born with the skills it takes to be a good listener. We can learn to listen, though, even when we are dealing with angry, mistaken, or hostile people. Hecklers, or those who need to be corrected, are really just people who are having a bad day and need our attention. Sometimes, all it takes to improve the situation is prove that you are listening. Here are four ways to instantly improve your listening skills:

1. Be in the moment. Prepare, both mentally and physically, the way you would if you were an athlete. Get rid of all distractions. That means turning off the computer, muting your cell phone, and ignoring the telephone. Ignore everything else. If any worries or concerns threaten to intervene, jot them down, and commit to dealing with them later.

2. Bypass your bias. It’s okay to have preconceived ideas (such as believing that someone’s idea won’t work) as long as you admit it. If you have a bias against an individual, admit it. Keep an open mind, though, and let the person persuade you trust him or her. You could be wrong. Be willing to allow for that possibility, and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.

3. Use your empathy. Sometimes, we hear the facts, but we overlook the emotions behind those facts. Find the feelings that lie beneath the words, and separate the facts from the emotions. Hearing not only what people say, but also what they feel about what they say, is the key to delivering an appropriate and helpful response.

4. Pay attention. Ideally, you’d be able to listen to everything, but sometimes, you can’t. You might be easily distracted, or the person delivering the message might be a poor communicator. In that case, focus on the cue words that can help you know what’s most important. Listen for the phrases, “The bottom line is…,” What we need to do hear…,” “My main goal is…,” and “To sum it all up….” Those are your cues to pay close attention to the words that follow, because the person is going to deliver the message you need to remember.

Show that you’re engaged by making great eye contact as you listen, and prove that you’ve been listening by paraphrasing what he or she has just said. Once you’ve validated the speaker, you’ll find that he or she will respond differently to you. The defensiveness will disappear, and so will your frustration. Your ability to listen will help the speaker, and you’ll benefit, too.

Ethan F. Becker is the author of Mastering Communication at Work (McGraw-Hill) and President of The Speech Improvement Company. Visit him online at

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