5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
It seems like we’re becoming a conglomerate of blabbermouths and know-it-alls, rather than skilled listeners. How can you become a better listener?
If you are a doctor, you probably listen for around 11 seconds before interrupting a patient. If you are giving a speech, you better grab your audience’s attention quickly, because you have around 30 seconds before most people will stop listening to you.
You can lay the blame on many things: sound bites, memes, clickbait, technology, laziness, declining conversation skills or the example of those on political talk shows.
But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whom we blame. If we want to be better listeners, we have to make changes ourselves. How can we improve our listening skills?
1. Listen better by not talking so much.
Someone who talks too much can often be a terrible conversationalist.
Conversation is a two-way process, and it breaks down if someone engages in long rants, interrupts others and never notices that he or she is the primary one doing the talking. The Bible warns that too much talking is a sign of foolishness and can lead to many bad results, such as sin and vanity (Proverbs 10:19; Ecclesiastes 5:3, 7).
One of the best ways to be a better listener is simple: stop talking so much. One of the best ways to be a better listener is simple: stop talking so much. Specifically, stop talking so much about ourselves, our opinions and our ideas. This doesn’t mean being totally silent, but rather using our two ears more than our one mouth. Think of all the good that would occur if we all listened more than we talked.
What this might look like: Just because someone mentions something that we may have an opinion on or an experience with does not mean we have to share every time.
We can try to just listen and make a conscious effort not to make everything about us and our experiences or opinions.
2. Listen better by waiting five seconds before commenting.
Admittedly, counting to five seconds in our heads can feel like an eternity. We often think we need to talk right away or interrupt to get a word in and ensure we are heard. The problem is that we’re not giving ourselves time to process what has been said. Good listeners don’t just hear words; they process and try to comprehend those words.
If we are trying to esteem others better than ourselves, we should strive to avoid interrupting or talking over others.There can be valid times to interrupt someone or jump right in within a conversation (for example, when others are verbally insulting us or others, when they are unaware of an offense that may be developing in their words, when they are getting completely off topic, etc.). But most of the time when we interrupt, it’s just because we want to talk, are tired of waiting for our turn or are just plain tired of listening.
If we are trying to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), we should strive to avoid interrupting or talking over others.
What this might look like: Sometimes you will not get a word in edgewise, and that’s okay. If someone else is a conversation dominator and takes a breath, trying to jump in is probably not going to stop the person from immediately taking control of the conversation again.
We have to patiently wait for a lull in the conversation to add our words. If there is no lull, the person we’re talking to may not want to hear our thoughts. If that’s the case, we may want to find a better conversation partner.
3. Listen better by repeating back to ensure understanding.
We do so much talking at one another, that figuring out how to talk with one another can be difficult. Doing this successfully requires that you really understand what the other person is trying to say. (Sometimes we hear only what we want to hear.) We can minimize misunderstandings by repeating back what we’ve heard before commenting ourselves.
Repeating shows that we’ve truly been listening and can help us keep our points and comments focused on the topic being discussed.
What this could look like: Here are a few examples of this type of repetition in action:
- “I’m hearing that you are upset with the way the program is going; tell me more about that.”
- “When you were describing that difficulty we had on the trip, it made me think of some ideas.”
- “When you said you disliked that part of the presentation, you didn’t give a reason why. Tell me what you didn’t like.”
- “I’m sensing a little frustration about what happened today. Is that right?”
4. Listen better by caring about what is being communicated.
The foremost motivation in a Christian’s life is to love God and love other people (Matthew 22:36-40). One way we show love to others is by listening. With God, we listen by reading His Word. With other people, we carefully listen to their words with concern. We must ask ourselves if we really care about them and what they’re saying, or are we just trying to get our chance to talk?
Listening to others is a chance to learn and grow from experiences that are different from our own. Finding ways to care for others and show interest in various topics, not just our own preferred topics, can expand our horizons and provide much-needed “iron sharpens iron” relationships (Proverbs 27:17).
What this could look like: Here are some examples of showing interest and care for others’ perspectives:
- “I disagree with most of what that author writes, but I haven’t read it all. Tell me what you liked.”
- “I’m so glad you brought this up. I’ve been thinking a lot about this for the past few weeks.”
- “That is very concerning to me. Tell me what you think we should start doing about that.”
5. Listen better by asking follow-up questions.
As we saw above, we must actually care about the other person in order to listen to him or her, and that care is demonstrated by genuinely wanting to know more about the person and his or her thoughts. This is done by asking questions.
It would be a shocking and horrifying thing to find ourselves in a conversation in which we have not asked anything about the other person, but have talked solely about ourselves. If that is our norm, then we may need to deeply question if we do actually care about what others are saying or if we just want to say our two cents’ worth and hear our own voice (me, me, me!).
No one likes a conversation that becomes a nightmarish trap of listening to someone blow his or her own horn or rant uninterrupted about what is really wrong with everything for long periods of time. Don’t be that nightmare yourself. Ask others questions and listen to their answers.
What this could look like:
- “I told you my thoughts on this issue. Now what do you think is the best solution?”
- “If you have some issues with the current situation, what do you think would be the best way to improve it?”
- “How do you think your experiences have influenced your thinking about this issue?”
Listening is worth it
Listening to God is the most important kind of listening we can do. But listening to others is a close second. Both loving God and loving our fellow man require focused listening.
Becoming a better listener is well worth the effort!