Listening is a soft skill that allows people to understand the information others convey to them. It is part of the communication skill set that includes speaking skills, also known as verbal communication, and interpersonal skills.
While hearing is a physical ability—one of our five senses—listening is a skill that an individual can acquire and improve upon over the course of their lifetime. Good listening skills will help you excel in most occupations, but excellent listening skills are essential in some.
You Can Be a Great Listener Without Good Hearing Ability
Individuals who are hearing impaired can be great listeners, and those who have excellent hearing can be poor listeners. Listening skills require the ability to receive and interpret information regardless of how one receives it.
How Good Listening Skills Can Improve Your Career
Good listening skills are imperative to succeeding at work. They allow you to successfully carry out your job duties, get along with your boss and coworkers, and serve your customers and clients.
When a manager gives instructions on how to complete a task, good listening skills will let you understand their expectations. Your ability to complete the task successfully increases.
Excellent communication skills, including listening skills, are at the foundation of all good relationships. Workplace relationships are no exception. Being able to understand what your coworkers allows you to build rapport with them. This is instrumental when working in a team-based environment.
Clients and customers will also benefit from your good listening skills. To fulfill their needs you must be able to understand what they are.
7 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
Follow these tips to learn how to be a great listener:
- Maintain Eye Contact: Looking someone in the eye during a conversation forces you to pay attention and also signals to the speaker that you are focused on what they are saying.
- Avoid Interrupting: Save your questions and comments until the speaker finishes talking. Someone well-versed at verbal communication will pause at regular intervals to allow the listener to ask questions. It is okay to do so at those points, but if that doesn't happen, wait.
- Sit Still: Fidgeting makes you look bored.
- Nod Your Head: This indicates to the speaker that you are taking in the information he or she is conveying.
- Be Attentive to Non-Verbal Cues: Paying attention to what the speaker doesn't say is as important as being attentive to his or her words. Look for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to fully understand everything.
- Lean Toward the Speaker: This signals to the other person that you are engaged in the conversation.
- Repeat Instructions and Ask Appropriate Questions: Once the speaker has finished talking, repeat his or her instructions to confirm that you understand them. This is also the time to ask any questions.
Barriers to Listening and How to Overcome Them
Obstacles may interfere with your ability to understand what someone is saying. They include both external and internal factors.
The speaker's foreign accent or speech impediment could make it difficult to understand them. Background noise such as the sounds of traffic or loud music can also impede your ability to listen.
Internal factors may also hamper you. Your own biases and prejudices may present a significant barrier. For instance, you may not take someone seriously because of your preconceived notions about them. Anxiety or anger can also make it harder to understand what someone is saying. Your own attention difficulties could also be a problem.
If you encounter one or more of these roadblocks, try your best to deal with them. For example, ask someone with a heavy accent to speak more slowly. Move to a quieter place if background noise is interfering with your ability to take in information. Conquering your biases or prejudices is more difficult, but being aware of them is a good place to start.
Careers That Require Excellent Listening Skills
Excellent listening skills are necessary to perform the primary job duties of these and other occupations:
- Mental Health Counselor
- Social Worker
- Air Traffic Controller
- School Principal
5 Key Benefits of Being an Active Listener
Excellent listening skills help you:
- Perform your job well
- Build good relationships with your coworkers and boss
- Work as a member of a team
- Respond to clients' or customers' needs and resolve their problems
- Meet the qualifications of particular occupations