Do you ever get frustrated when you realize that the person you've been talking to was not really listening at all?
Do others ever complain that you don't listen?
Don't be too anxious if the answer to either or both questions is "yes".
Although we may not be aware of it, many of us have poor listening skills, and strong listening skills are important for everyone, not only for second language learners. Good communication is essential to forming good relationships with people of all kinds, from family, friends and neighbours to co-workers, bosses and even government officials!
We often focus on saying what we want to say in an effective way and forget that listening carefully to others is just as important. The good news is that we can learn how to improve our listening skills. One key to improvement is developing "active listening" skills. Much of the time, we listen passively, so by making an effort to listen actively, we can improve our learning skills better and establish successful relationships more easily.
Here are a few tips to help you start listening more actively:-
Firstly, never underestimate the importance of non verbal communication. "Non verbal" simply means "without words". One study found that non verbal factors were responsible for 93 percent of communication effectiveness.* While not all experts agree that the percentage is as high as this, they do agree that non verbal communication is extremely powerful.
So, when you listen to another person, pay close attention to their tone of voice, facial expression and body language. Sometimes, for example, a person's words might be positive but their non verbal communication is not. When a person's words do not agree with their non verbal signals, you may need to consider how truthfully they are speaking.
Also, you can use non verbal methods to encourage another person to communicate with you. Making eye contact, using friendly facial expressions and having a relaxed and open manner are all helpful. You can use non verbal signals, such as nods of the head or smiles to let the speaker know you are interested and truly listening without interrupting their speech too much.
Another key to active listening is having an open mind. Do your best to put your own feelings and opinions aside while you listen, and encourage the speaker to fully express their ideas. Try to imagine that you are in the same situation as the speaker. In this way, you will better understand their point of view.
One more tip is to "echo" what the speaker has said. By repeating or rephrasing their words, such as by saying, "So, you feel unhappy" or "This caused problems for you?", you are performing two important functions of an active listener. One is showing the other person that you have been following what they were saying, and the other is giving the speaker the chance to correct you if you have misunderstood. This technique is especially useful in highly emotional situations or situations of disagreement.
Avoid the temptation to start talking about your own ideas or views. If you do that you have stopped listening and started talking.
Once you put your mind to listening more actively, you will find the practice has many benefits.
*See http://www.businessballs.com/mehrabiancommunications.htm for more details of Professor Albert Mehrabian's communications model.
Visit http://www.bnlifeskills.com/listenquiz.htm for a quiz on active listening.