Do you need to develop your listening skills?

I realised some years ago that when others spoke I itched to jump in with my response. I grew increasingly excited about a discussion and even more so with what I could add to it. Being an introvert, a lot of my thoughts stay as my thoughts but when in a comfortable environment and a topic of interest is discussed, I get very much involved and become animated – hands everywhere!

Listening is giving someone your time at that moment, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, mentee. It is focussing on that person without feeling the need to jump in with a solution or a question. Sometimes people just want to be listened to, to feel they matter, that their thoughts and feelings are of some relevance in this fast paced world. Often the question “How are you?” is asked expecting a standard “I am fine” response. Not everyone has the willingness or care to uncover how the person really is – they are happy to accept the standard answer and go back to whatever they were doing. I want to be the person who stops what they are doing to listen and am developing this skill.

It may be that you cannot offer a solution as the problem is not a practical one. Being a practical person I tend to want to help to solve the problems of others and feel slightly frustrated and redundant when I cannot. I am learning to reign in my impulse to do this as it causes a block to me giving them my full attention.

I am becoming more self aware of my body language and how I come across to others when listening to them. I physically assess myself and hold back from speaking if I feel there is a need. I give eye contact but am careful not to stare. I avoid looking at my phone or checking any other device unless I have clearly stated I am expecting an important text/call.

When I completed my counselling diploma over ten years ago, I learned key principles with regards to listening and being present with the person in the room. Those principles have stayed with me ever since. It is amazing that whilst studying with the intention of improving your skills to work with others that you learn much about yourself. Life is a journey of discovery and I am happy to be on board!

Do you find you speak far more than you listen or perhaps vice versa? How does this affect the way in which you communicate with others? Do you have any tips for effective listening?

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22 thoughts on “Do you need to develop your listening skills?”

  1. Listening is the primary key when it comes to having a conversation. I believe that’s how the conversation flows. Glad you have thought of writing about it, small points like these are often missed by us when focusing on other points. Post like yours serves to be the reminders!

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  2. I am also an introvert. Listening is a skill and not everyone understands how to do it. Like you I try not to glance at my phone or other things when I am listening to someone else speak. I also need that time to really pay attention to what the person is saying so that I can respond to them in a way that they know I am paying attention.

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  3. This resonates with me today as I was talking to an old friend from school and she talked enough for both of us. She didn’t really even bother to listen to the other people she was with. Kind of sad. Great reminder of a skill we should all practice every day.

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  4. as a fellow introvert, I tend to listen more than contribute to the conversation, especially in a group setting. But, if it’s just between 2 or 3 close friends I do tend to speak out more, especially as you say, when the topic is something I’m passionate about.

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  5. I used to have the same habit of thinking ahead in a conversation, but what forced me to become a better listener was moving into international sales. When you’re negotiating million-dollar+ contracts with people who speak little or no English, it shifts the importance of listening to a critical level.

    One of the techniques I learned that saved me on more than a few occasions was how to repeat a question in different ways to check for understanding and clarity. Great topic Phoenicia!

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    1. Herald – I can always tell when I have lost someone’s attention. Their eyes glaze over. For this reason I am aware others can tell if I drift off and start thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner/what I am wearing tomorrow etc etc!

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  6. I think that while I am not a horrible listener, I could probably improve my listening skills a bit more such as watching my body language. Though I always do make an effort to let the other person finish speaking before jumping in with my 2 cents.

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  7. You hit a real topic for me, Phoenicia. I like to listen, to learn, which you do by hearing, not by speaking. But I’ve recently spent some time with some friends (and I do love them dearly) who talk non-stop while all I do is listen. It’s always interesting to me when later they say it was good to catch up with me. Cause I wonder, just what did they learn about me?
    But, all in, it reminds me to be a good listener and that perhaps no one else has recently paid attention to them. So I do.

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    1. Listening should always be two ways but rarely is. You have a good heart Rose Mary and may be correct in thinking perhaps they are rarely listened to by others. Sometimes those we give out to are not those we receive from.

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  8. Am not always a good listener if I’m not interested in the other person or what he/she has to say. But I have always listened to people working for me even if I wasn’t interested in what they said. Goes with being in charge. Have to say though that it can sometimes be tedious.

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  9. Hi Phoenicia,
    Yes, listening is a VITAL skill. I have seen several management textbooks that declare listening to be the #1 skill needed by a good manager in any field or business.

    One of the most important tips I can offer as a former communication professor is for a listener NOT to be busy thinking about what the listener will say next. To be fully present to the speaker, a listener must concentrate both on what the speaker says and what the speaker means. Often the two are different. A speaker often wants simply to be heard and understood, not to have the speaker’s problem solved by the listener. Knowing the right way to acknowledge a speaker’s situation is important. A listener can say, “I can see that you are concerned about this.” Or “I can hear that this is very important to you.” And so on. A listener must not insert himself or herself into the situation.

    Good topic for a blog post! Thank you!

    Dr Rin

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    1. Thank you for your insight into listening, Dr Rin. It is much appreciated. I like your tip on not jumping in to have your say when someone is talking. The emphasis must come off of the listener.

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  10. Wow, you wrote about me! I have a horrible problem, of wanting to finish people’s thoughts or inadvertently jump in/add something, while the speaker is in mid sentence. I’m working being more patient and waiting for a break in the conversation, before adding my 2 cents.

    Great blog!

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  11. Great post, Phoenicia. I agree that listening skills are equally as important. as speaking skills. Having both in balance makes a perfect communicator. I think that being a Toastmaster has helped me improve both my speaking and listening skills, and highly recommend this great organization to anyone who wants to improve their ability to be a good communicator.

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