Improve Your Listening Skills
Successful communication is a two-way street. When someone speaks to you, you should listen and create a dialogue. As you listen and converse, your goal should be understanding, not winning or being right.
If you're like most people, however, you have undeveloped listening skills.
"Listening is the art of truly hearing what a person is trying to say, not just what's said. The best listeners hear the words and see the body language so they capture the whole message," says Anne Warfield, president of Impression Management Professionals in Minneapolis, and author of Communicating More Effectively.
Ms. Warfield offers these suggestions on how to improve your listening skills.
If you learn to use active listening skills to hear and comprehend the thoughts, feelings and concerns behind the words, you'll make a speaker feel respected and also create an understanding that leads to progress and mutual benefit.
"Active listening takes concentration, effort and the ability to put your own agenda aside, for the moment, so you can understand the other person's viewpoint," Ms. Warfield says.
Steps to active listening
Stop whatever you're doing and give your full attention to the speaker. This shows respect and allows you to view body language. To demonstrate your interest, lean forward, look directly at the other person, nod and make appropriate comments about what he or she says.
What to listen for
Words. Is the message clear and concise? What are the words alone trying to say?
Tone of voice. The tone of someone's voice reflects the person's emotional state. Does the tone sound hostile or nervous, or does it sound friendly, relaxed and sincere?
Pitch. A high-pitched voice usually indicates nervousness, fear or anxiety. A lower pitch signifies confidence.
Pace. People usually vary in the speed of their speech.
Body language to look for
Eyes. Good eye contact signifies honesty and confidence. To create good eye contact, position yourself so you're at about the same eye level as the other person.
Facial expression. A genuine smile expresses friendship, approval and relaxation. Sullen looks represent disinterest, disapproval or concern. Frowning conveys disapproval or disbelief.
Posture. Standing tall and straight with arms relaxed at the side indicates confidence, while sloped shoulders suggest low self-esteem. Crossed arms signal a person's anger or defensiveness.
Rating your listening skills
"To find out how well you listen, repeat what you think the other person said before you respond to it," says Ms. Warfield. "If people correct you more than 20 percent of the time, you hear what you want to hear, not what's said."
Listening actively pays off because mutual understanding in communication is essential for success, not only in your career, but also in your personal life.