listeningMany people worry about what they will say in a certain scenario or how to address an audience or client. The focus on what we say and how we say it consumes all our attention on communication skills. However, it is an essential part of effective communication to know when to stop talking and listen. Not everyone is a natural listener, many people are so full of ideas and opinions they find it hard to keep quiet when taking part in a conversation or discussion. But a runaway tongue can be just as problematic as not knowing what to say at all. If someone talks without listening, people quickly tire of their voice and tune out. Those who do not listen are also more likely to make rash or hasty decisions and suggestions. It is always good to have your voice heard but it is equally important to gain respect from those around you by making a positive contribution to the conversation instead of simply creating noise.

Take your time

Some people make the mistake of believing that every situation requires an immediate response and that a fast talker will win people over. There are actually very few situations which do not benefit from taking some time and making a decision carefully after listening to a range of opinions. This is not always a natural response, especially in time of stress or when people are panicking. It can help to practice thinking before speaking and taking time in a situation to listen carefully to the points being made before diving in with a suggestion or opinion. This lends itself to a more considered response which wins respect from others. Taking time to listen frequently brings the rewards of a decision or response made after reflecting on the opinions of others; more buy in from other participants and a sense that they are sharing this journey with you. A slower and more thoughtful approach can also help to tune out distractions or emotions which may cloud your judgement.

Practice listening

For all forms of communication, demonstrating your listening skills has many benefits for you and those around you. Active listening builds trust, provides essential feedback, shows attention to detail and makes for a more informed response. If you find it hard to calm the voices in your head and stifle your impulse to fill every gap in the conversation then it is worth thinking about how you can develop your listening skills. Think of the people you know who you think of as good listeners. What characteristics do they demonstrate? Which of those do you think you could learn from? Practice some techniques to improve your listening skills. We all know how much better we can retain information when there are no distractions, so try to minimize factors that may intrude when you need to focus on what is being said. Find a way which works for you in order to remember the information you need. Some people make notes, others make associations in their head, even doodles or diagrams can help to remember the key information. Finally practice calming the voice in your head and tuning into the conversation taking place. Good focus and excellent listening skills can be achieved with patience, practice and time.