Improve Your Listening Skills


By Brenna Lofquist, Senior Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening should not be confused with hearing, they are two different words with two different meanings. A few months ago, I listened to Dorie Clark’s LinkedIn Learning session, Improving Your Listening Skills, and there were a few things that stood out to me.

You might read the title and think it’s common sense or think you already know how to be a great listener but, I think you’d be surprised if you listened to the course – I know I was.

The workplace has drastically changed for lots of people across the world. And with so many employees working remotely, communication and listening are more important than ever. It’s important to learn these skills from a foundational perspective and not only for specific situations. I’ve seen lots of resources and videos on how to stay engaged during video calls but, why not broaden those skills to be applicable for not only the workplace but, your personal life too.

Let’s talk through a few highlights I found to be very valuable.

Adopt the Mindset of Listening

Dorie Clark outlines five steps to adopt the mindset of listening including:

Understand your motivation

Determine why you are seeking to become a better listener. Career advancement is an example, you might have received feedback from your boss or manager you could improve your listening skills. Keep the reason in mind as a way to stay focused

Show you care

Becoming a better listener is a powerful way to show other people you care about them and their perspective. It’s a trait people notice and really appreciate; it can go a long way.

Understand the real problem or issue

Listening enables you to access what’s hidden, the nuances, that can make all the difference. There’s often a surface reason and a real reason. By learning to be a great listener, you can look beyond the surface reason and uncover the real reason which is required to solve the situation.

Embrace your curiosity

Let yourself ask questions and be curious, it will help you to better understand people by learning more about them.

Recognize the consequences

Think about what will happen if a person on your team or someone you manage is not heard. When people aren’t heard they might stop trying, resent you, or become less effective, all of which will have negative impact within the workplace and your relationships.

Following the above five steps will allow you to build a foundation for great listening. This wasn’t mentioned in the session however, you could try jotting down a few sentences for each bullet point. Use it as a reference when you realize you haven’t been a great listener and to help you get back on track.

Why do we have a hard time listening?

There could be a handful of reasons we aren’t listening such as we’re distracted, we’re too busy interrupting, we’re nervous, or we don’t agree. All of these reasons keep us from listening and in turn can make the speaker feel alienated, not respected, and more.

We’re distracted

According to Science ABC, when you attempt to tackle more than one task, it may seem like you are focusing on two, three or four things at once, but in fact, the brain is just shifting focus extremely rapidly. You might not think you are distracted but, if you’re trying to juggle another task while listening to someone, the chances are you are 100% distracted and not listening. At a minimum, you are taking in the surface level topics or points of the conversation but, you are limiting yourself from understanding the in-depth concepts and meanings not easily portrayed solely with words.

We’re too busy interrupting

Interrupting occurs for a number of reasons. Interrupting might come from a good place (sometimes) but, it can still be interpreted as you not listening. We also might interrupt because we don’t agree, or we think the speaker is annoying. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in these situations and it’s best to still let the person talk to be respectful, so they feel heard. We aren’t always going to agree or get along with people but if you can learn how to be a great listener even in these situations, you’ll be better off in the long run.

We’re nervous

If you are nervous, instead of listening you’re more concerned with what your response will be. Some examples include high-stakes conversations or trying to close a deal. Instead, you could try and better prepare yourself so you’re able to focus on the speaker.

We don’t agree

Typically, we don’t agree when receiving feedback. Instead of continuing to let the person talk, we cut them off and they don’t feel heard. In some cases, it might be feedback from a random person and in that case, you don’t have to accept it. However, if you are receiving feedback from management or your boss, it’s your duty to accept it.

How to Keep Yourself from Interrupting

It can be difficult to stop yourself from interrupting. The first step in the process should be understanding why we interrupt, which I’ve discussed in the previous section. Next, you can work through a few of Dorie’s strategies to minimize interrupting.

Take notes

Giving yourself a task like taking notes helps you focus better on what the person is saying and distracts you from interrupting. Taking notes also helps you to remember nuances or important details which in turn allows you to formulate a more in-depth response.

Focus on breathing

Breathing is especially critical if you are in a tense conversation. It’s natural for your heart rate to spike and you’re more likely to interrupt because it feels like you need to defend yourself. If you notice your heart rate increasing, pause for a second and take a big breath to slow down your breathing.

Pretend you’re a filmmaker

This strategy comes from one of Dorie’s filmmaker friends. When they are listening to someone speak, they pretend they are filming an interview where if you interrupt the footage is ruined. They let the person finish completely before replying or sharing their opinion/feedback. If you need to, jot down your notes or thoughts so you don’t forget to bring it up at the end.

Bringing it all together

Dorie Clark’s session includes much more information than what I’ve discussed. If you have access to LinkedIn Learning, I recommend watching this course, Improving Your Listening Skills. It’s only 29 minutes and super valuable for work and personal life.

Listening is a critical skill to advance in your career but, also to strengthen and foster respectful, valuable relationships.

Do you have any tips that help you be a better listener? Let me know in the comments!