4 Ways To Listen Effectively: It Might Just Change Your Life

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" – George Bernard Shaw

In our lives we’ve likely had many communication failures: mixed messages, unspoken needs or desires, inability to deal with confrontation, saying yes when we mean no.

We talk over people, text on our phones while listening to others, interrupt mid-sentence, and wonder why we can’t get our point across, or simply missed the point of the whole conversation.

Improving your listening and communication skills is akin to developing athletic skills. 

You push through the discomfort  of miscommunication to discover your strengths. Exercise your ability to ask open-ended questions and encourage others to provide their reasoning, to broaden your understanding.

Counterintuitive though it may be, to communicate effectively, you must first be a strong listener.

I often begin presentations by saying, “What you’re about to learn you may have heard before; but this time, maybe you’ll actually listen to what’s being said.”

I am not berating the audience; I am pointing out that we frequently miss the point of the message because of the noise in our heads. We may hear but not really listen.

 Listening is THE most important aspect of communication.

Frequently, your brain is making more noise than the sound coming through your ears. You’re often too distracted, busy with our thoughts, or time-stressed to pay full attention to the person in front of you. I do that often with my husband which drives him crazy!

Multitasking is distracted listening. If you are giving instructions, divided attention can lead to muddled communication and frustration. Lack of clarity can produce disastrous results.

Everyone needs to be seen and heard to feel valued. Great listening skills builds trust and relationships and foster insight.

We frequently don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply

Genuine listening requires being present with the other person and giving your full attention to what they are saying.

  • Listening to understand.
  • Listening to know how to respond. Listening in order to give proper feedback.
  • Listening to offer empathy.
  •  Listening is an act of love.

Simply put, what people want most of all is to be seen and heard.

Listening is actually about others. It’s about giving people attention, respecting their time, and as a listener, clearing our heads of our own agendas.

People look for cues that you’re listening to what they’re saying: body language, leaning in, making eye contact, nodding. Not interrupting. Listening for what’s being said rather than what you think you want to hear.

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." –Benjamin Franklin

There are four levels of listening to consider:

Level 1

We’re egocentric, concerned with our own thoughts and the need to express them. We hear what the other person is saying but don’t really listen. We are planning how to respond or are anxious for our side of the story to be heard. We interrupt the other’s thinking to express our ideas or we oppose their ideas without waiting for them to finish. Conversations become a ping-pong match of one-upmanship. This is not true listening.

Level 2

We focus on what someone is saying and demonstrate support. We lean in, make eye contact, smile and nod, murmur agreement. The conversation is warm and inviting. We allow the person to finish speaking and assure them we’ve heard by paraphrasing some of the conversation and asking for confirmation that we fully understood. This is active listening.

Level 3

In level three listening, we show empathy for the other person to let them know we’re truly listening and we care. We share stories that support the conversation. We demonstrate mutual understanding, which builds trust. This empathy helps people feel they belong, one of the three fundamental human needs.

Level 4

At level four, listening becomes an art form.

  • We listen to what’s not being said.
  • We listen to the tone of voice.
  • We listen for gaps in what’s said and explore what’s behind their words with curiosity.
  • We ask open-ended questions to drive the conversation to a deeper level.

This kind of listening is collaborative and intuitive.

Being open and curious is critical to listening and understanding others.

Admitting—to yourself and to others—that there are more things you don’t know is a major first step.

Open-ended questions allow you to explore others’ reasoning and thought processes and then share your own, which can lead to fresh, collaborative perspectives and ideas.

We get a feel for what’s going on and test it by asking questions. We express empathy and consider the other person’s perspectives. We validate the other’s thought processes and actively involve them in decision making.

I built my reputation as a coach on listening well. I develop trust with clients by giving them my whole attention. I demonstrate understanding of their challenges by sharing my own stories and offering anecdotal advice to move forward. My clients feel seen and heard, and understood.

When you improve your listening skills you build trust, loyalty and opportunities to connect more meaningfully and develop greater opportunities for success.

Be a good listener and you become a trusted friend.

Related: Do You Have Enough Self-Discipline To Succeed?