Even though it’s often overlooked, it’s likely that listening is the most important element of communication skills. It’s estimated that managers spend 60%-90% of their time at work listening to people, and this figure goes up the higher up the ranks the manager is. So listening really is a key skill that also contributes to your team playing skills, leadership skills and most likely problem-solving skills!

Effective listening skills are not only about listening out for important information, but also about interacting with people on a personal level. One of the most important components of listening is showing interest and conveying your respect for the other person, so you need to be a good listener if you want to create good working relationships.

If you’re still not totally convinced about just how important listening is watch Julian Treasure’s eight-minute video “5 ways to listen better” below. He explains that listening is more than just hearing and is a key way that we interact and create connections with the people around us. That’s why it’s such an important element in managerial roles – if you can’t convince people that you understand them and take them seriously it’s unlikely you’ll get far in asking them to do what you want them to do!

When employers ask about your listening skills...

they want to know that you can work with people from all different cultures and social backgrounds and communicate with them politely and professionally. They’ll also want to know that you can actively listen and don’t need to be told things twice.  They want you to be able to work as part of a diverse team, handle difficult customers or colleagues and create an effective working environment.

You can demonstrate your listening skills by letting employers know that you have always cultivated good working relationships. This will show that you can listen to people respectfully. If you’ve ever worked in a customer service position this is a great opportunity to show that you have developed your listening skills. You can use any example where you have helped customers or resolved a complaint to demonstrate your skills.

Developing your listening skills involves recognising and dealing with the barriers that prevent us from listening effectively.  This means becoming aware of when we lose concentration, get distracted or become self-conscious. We often do this because we begin planning what we want to say next instead of giving the speaker our full attention.

Frequently, we listen to respond instead of to understand and this means we miss a lot of what the other person is trying to communicate because we are so focused on preparing our next witty comments. As the Dalai Lama has said, “when you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen you may learn something new”.

How to practice your listening skills

To practice more active listening there are a number of steps you can follow:

  • Stop talking so much! Try to cultivate a more relaxed relationship with responding immediately. Wait until the person has stopped talking before you begin considering your own response and delay evaluating what you have heard for a few seconds. Don’t be afraid of a little bit of silence!
  • Keep eye contact. If you break eye contact too frequently it will seem like you are losing concentration or trying to hide something.
  • Give feedback to the other person frequently throughout the conversation. Nod your head, say “yes” and paraphrase what they have said to let them know you understand.
  • Ask relevant questions that elaborate on what they have said. Ask for further clarification.
  • Try to remove distractions when you are interacting with people. Make sure your phone isn’t buzzing in your pocket, turn any music down or off and if possible move to quiet spaces when you need to have important conversations.
  • Smile! Make sure that you let the other person know that you are open to what they are saying and that you won’t respond defensively.
  • Try to become increasingly aware of when you get distracted in conversations. Once you understand what causes you to lose concentration it’s easier to begin working on removing these distractions.

You can practice your listening skills by immersing yourself in new environments and new groups. Getting to know people from other cultures and backgrounds is a great way to improve your listening skills as it will challenge your expectations and encourage you to open up to what people are saying. Meeting new people can be intimidating but try to give everyone you speak your full attention and see the positive results it gets.

Ways to listen better