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How to Listen Effectively

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.


“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It's a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.”

— Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics, Georgetown University

Several years ago, I took a course that would enable me to be a lay minister and help people who needed a non-judgmental ear. The Stephen Ministry course emphasized that listening plays an important role in our personal and professional lives.

Listening is not just hearing someone out. Really hearing what a person is saying is a good way to build relationships, understand and help others, and potentially resolve issues.

How Listening Can Work For Us

In this busy world, people often share only when they want to talk about something they feel is important. Listening is a way we can show them that we respect and care about them enough to hear what they have to say without interruption. When someone is expressing something confidential and deeply personal, they are demonstrating that they trust us.

Some people talk because they need to vent or express their grief or frustration. When we listen, we gain a better understanding of who they are. We might also be able to give some words of encouragement or offer helpful suggestions after hearing them out. Listening can also be the first step to reconciliation in broken relationships.

Listening can play a key role in situations such as job interviews. For example, a job applicant can listen intently to a recruiter and discern what the recruiter is really wanting. The job applicant can use that information to demonstrate that he or she is listening by responding appropriately to questions and making relevant comments about their skills and experience.


How to Have Great Listening Skills

In the book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, author Mark Goulston suggests numerous techniques to deal with difficult situations. Here are several methods that help us to become effective listeners.

Be Prepared and Fully Present

If possible, we should pick a place to meet with few or no distractions, background noise, or possible interruptions. Cell phones should be muted and put away. Speakers may ask for feedback, so we should be prepared to ask for clarification or respond with recommendations. We should give speakers our full attention.

Have an “Active Listening” State Of Mind

During a long-winded conversation, we should remember key phrases and concepts speakers bring up so that we can reference them later. We should keep any potential suggestions or comments we want to make to ourselves. That way, we can concentrate fully on what the person is saying.

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Be Aware of Our Body Language And Eye Contact

We should be alert but relaxed so that speakers feel at ease. Good eye contact can create connections, but we should look away now and then so that speakers do not feel uncomfortable or like they are being stared at.

Our body language should convey that we are open and receptive to what speakers are saying. One way to do this is to lean forward without encroaching on their personal space.

Empathize With Them

When people are describing their frustration with something, such as technology that does not work properly, we should show empathy. If we are the go-to people for IT problems, it is tempting to be impatient and roll our eyes when dealing with those who are not tech-savvy. Conversations like this may require even more active listening, patience with their ignorance, and understanding. We should put ourselves in their shoes and remember the last time we tore our hair out in frustration because of technical issues.

Acknowledge What We Are Hearing Them Say

There are several ways that we can acknowledge that we are hearing and understanding speakers, such as an occasional “yes” or “uh-huh” during a pause. Our body language can also express that we comprehend them by a head nod, facial expressions showing concern or empathy, or by leaning forward slightly in a chair.

We should try not to think about comments or suggestions we want to make while speakers are talking. When our minds are in a whirl or our personal biases kick in, we cannot listen properly and may miss some important information. We should not jump to conclusions or offer suggestions unless speakers ask for them.

Use Reflective Listening

This method involves reflecting back whatever speakers are saying, such as: “I am hearing you saying…,” or “You are identifying the problem as…” This practice also affirms that we are truly paying attention. Reflective listening can also acknowledge the speaker’s feelings by saying things such as: “That must have been a difficult thing to go through,” “You must be excited about this,” or “You seem to need some help with that.”

When we reflect what speakers say by repeating their words, the speakers are assured that we are listening carefully and care about their feelings. A head nod of acknowledgment such as “yes” or “mm-hum” show that we understand what they are saying. We should watch for non-verbal cues by the speaker, such as facial expressions or changes in their tone as they are speaking.

Do Not Interrupt or Interject Solutions Before Hearing Them Out

We should watch for a pause in the conversation before we make comments or ask questions. The pause may be a good time to offer words of encouragement, if needed. If the talking gets long-winded, we can use a non-verbal gesture such as raising our hands, or a quick “excuse me” to indicate that we want to respond to what they are saying. Speakers will show through body language, a pause, or a request for input that they are ready to hear what we want to say.

Be Ready for What May Come Next

Speakers is usually looking for a sympathetic ear, a discussion about a problem, help with certain tasks, or suggestions for potential solutions to their problems. Active listeners are mentally prepared for whatever challenges may come up. We should be ready to help with encouraging words and ideas, if needed.

According to the book Listen: How to Embrace the Difficult Conversations Life Throws at You by Jen Dalton, these conversations can become difficult when they deal with deep issues such as death and money.

Effective listening is a skill that requires some effort on our part to understand other people and learn about their challenges and needs. Active listening can help workers solve problems on the job, heal broken relationships, and gives listeners opportunities to help others.


Stephen Ministries Course and Resource Materials
What Great Listeners Actually Do, Harvard Business Review. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
10 Steps To Effective Listening, Forbes, Dianne Schilling
Strategies for Effective Listening in Four Easy Steps, Rhythm Systems, Alan Gehringer

© 2015 Carola Finch


FlourishAnyway from USA on October 18, 2015:

So many people are poor listeners that I wish this were required reading.

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