How to Develop Your Active Listening Skills

Most people think they learned how to listen in kindergarten, but this isn’t exactly the case.  You may have learned to hear people when they talk, but you didn’t necessarily get into the habit of actively listening to them. In our daily work lives, our relationships suffer, we miss out on a lot of information, and, ultimately, we make our jobs harder because we don’t pay attention to what people are saying.

The Four Filters That Prevent Good Listening

It’s in your best interest to avoid unnecessary communication breakdowns caused by a failure to listen.  You can start by learning the ways that you might unconsciously filter out what others are saying.  There are four kinds of filters:

  • The predilection filter: Hearing what you want to hear instead of what is meant.
  • The who filter: Placing importance based on the person doing the talking.
  • The facts filter: Being oblivious to the emotional subtext of the conversation.
  • The distracting thoughts filter: Allowing your mind to wander.

Practicing Filter Prevention

Once you’ve identified what types of filters you use and under what circumstances you use them, employ these suggestions for practicing “filter prevention,” and also for becoming an active and involved listener:

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t tune out because you think you know what’s coming.
  • Read between the lines, and assess what is meant vs. what is said.
  • Acknowledge that you are paying attention by sustaining eye contact, nodding, or saying “uh huh.”
  • Verbally summarize what the speaker has said, paraphrasing rather than repeating it verbatim.
  • Empathize with how the speaker is feeling.
  • Ask specific, clarifying questions.
  • Take notes to keep yourself focused and to help you remember what’s being communicated.
  • Don’t type on your Blackberry, text, or tweet while someone is talking to you.
  • Don’t change the subject until you’re certain the speaker has concluded his or her point.

You can encourage others to listen to you by emphasizing key points, and by asking for a restatement of your message in the person’s own words.  Make your position relevant to the listener, and, as a general rule, listen more than you talk. You will stand out as a person colleagues consider it a pleasure to talk to!

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Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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