Friday, October 24, 2008

Effective listening skills

Most of us hear but don’t listen and instead we spend time thinking about what we are going to say next. Poor listening skills can create misunderstandings, make us miss deadlines and focus our attention on the wrong issues and points.

Simple steps to improving your listening skills:


Recognising it as an area of improvement sets you on the path to becoming a better listener.

Convey Interest:

Set aside whatever you’re doing and give the speaker your 100% attention. This offers encouragement to the speaker and he/she doesn’t feel compelled to speak faster or abbreviate their message. Convey interest nonverbally by nodding, maintaining direct eye contact and leaning forward.

Speaker’s Non-Verbal Cues:

Watch out for the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, tone and volume of voice, as being alert to these cues increases your ability to comprehend the full message.

No ‘Overtaking’:

‘Overtaking’ on the verbal highway or finishing off the speaker’s sentences makes him/her feel rushed and under pressure. Wait till the speaker has finished before interjecting with your comments. If you interrupt by mistake, apologise.


If you aren’t sure of the message, ask the speaker to repeat it. Then, you summarise it, evaluating your own understanding while doing so.

Ask Questions:

This shows genuine interest and offers encouragement to the speaker. Questions like “Do you mean to say...” or “Is this what you have in mind...?” paraphrase the speaker’s remarks.

Fight Impatience:

As we think several times faster than we speak, we become impatient and lose concentration. Instead, use your mind to analyse the speaker’s message and extract the essence.


A pause is an effective communication tool — it shows you are thinking before speaking and also creates a certain degree of suspense.

As Ernest Hemingway famously remarked “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

About the Author: Shital Kakkar Mehra is the founder of Soft Skills International.