15 Listening Strategies for Better Communication

While listening is an innate ability, it can be developed into a skill by a conscious and deliberate application of certain strategies which greatly enhance its effectiveness. From childhood itself, good listening habits could be inculcated through listening to a story, to music, or to a song. The child will then be more receptive, and later, respond effectively to training in more advanced listening strategies. A few of these strategies are considered here:

1. Preparation for Listening

The environment must be made conducive to listening. Noise and disturbance can be kept out by closing doors, or using a soundproof room. Suitable arrangements for microphones and stationery should be made in advance. Interruptions must be prevented. By these means, the physical barriers can be eliminated, and the listener can focus his attention on the speaker.

2. Background Knowledge

The listener should train himself to listen intelligently, bearing in mind the speaker, the topic and the situation.

3. Reorganize the Material in His Mind

The listener should be able to recognize patterns used by the speaker, and should be able to identify the main / central point, and supporting points; s/he should re-organize the material in his mind according to certain headings so as to facilitate recall.

4. Focusing on the Speaker‘s Matter Rather Than Manner

The listener should not be prejudiced by the personal or behavioural traits of the speaker or his style, but should focus on the content, intent, and argument of the ‘message‘.

5. Listening Actively

Listening actively also involves being considerate to the speaker and empathising with him. By adopting an alert listening pose, the listener puts the speaker at his ease and places him in a better position to formulate and express his ideas. The listener should have a positive attitude towards a talk, believing that in every talk there is always at least one point or idea that will be of value and special significance to him.

6. Listen with Complete Concentration

The listener should learn to differentiate between argument and evidence; idea and example; fact and opinion. He should attempt to pick out and paraphrase the important points while disregarding unimportant ones.

7. Interaction

Interaction and participation in a discussion, no doubt render the listening process more fruitful; but the following points must be observed:

  • Allow the speaker to finish what he is saying before you begin to talk. Do not interrupt.
  • Do not disturb the speaker by indulging in some undesirable form of activity, like talking to the person next to you, looking at your watch, or walking out, or appearing uninterested or distracted.
  • Do not contradict the speaker.
  • Do not let your mind move on to anticipate what is going to be said next – just listen carefully to what the speaker is actually saying. If you are busy planning your replies, you are likely to miss important points, and make irrelevant or stupid statements.
  • Avoid passing comments or making remarks while the speaker is speaking.
  • Only one person should speak at a time.
  • Be open to new ideas, ask questions, seeking clarification of meaning, ideas, and thoughts; or to gather additional information, or to direct the flow of the conversation.

8. Patience

Do not get restless or impatient. Be careful not to lose your temper.

9. Motivation

The experience of listening is more rewarding if the listener is motivated and interested. Confidence and trust in the speaker are necessary.

10. Introspection

The listener must honestly examine his existing listening habits, and consider whether he can improve upon them.

11. Provide Positive Feedback

By maintaining eye contact, using proper facial expressions, nodding from time to time, leaning forward, and so on, you put the speaker at his ease, encourage him and thus enable him to give of his best.

12. Listen for Vocal or Non-Verbal Cues

By noting the speaker‘s tone of voice or facial expressions, it is possible to get at his meaning more effectively. Pay attention to what the speaker says as much as to what he leaves unsaid.

13. Make Good Use of the Time-gap Between Speaking and Thinking

Spend this ‘extra’ time reflecting on what the speaker is saying. You could even jot down points or make brief notes on selected topics. Make a kind of mental summary, and evaluate what is being said. You may anticipate what the speaker is going to say next, but it is necessary to listen carefully to find out whether it is exactly what you expected or whether there is some difference. If there is a difference, it is important to consider what the difference is, and the reason for it.

14. Practice your Listening Skills

Train yourself to use your listening skills every time you have occasion to listen. Do not abandon the task of listening, especially if you find it difficult. Listening is an act of the will as much as a matter of habit. It depends on mental conditioning. Willingness to make an effort, therefore, matters.

15. Adapting to Different Communication Events

Effective listening includes the ability to adapt to several communication events, involving intercultural communication situations. The listener must be aware of factors like culture, gender, race, status, etc., and not allow them to adversely affect his listening. In this connection, tolerance, patience, and empathy are important.

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