One of the major barriers to good communication is our ability to listen properly. There is a significant difference between hearing and listening, and they are often confused.

Sitting outside in the early morning with our cup of coffee, we can often hear the morning chorus of the birds while we read the paper. And while we are perfectly aware of the noise, no-one could call that ‘listening’ could they?

The task of ‘listening’ is a difficult job; it is hard work. But done properly it can mean that you understand what is being said allowing you to respond accurately.

So here are some tips for better listening

· Give your full attention to the speaker ~ this means bringing all your concentration to the task of listening.

· Beware of biased listening ~ to understand what a person is saying does not mean that you agree with the message. Don’t let your personal beliefs interfere with your ability to listen to what is being said.

· Ignore mental distractions ~ if we are busy and are concerned about our personal problems it is easy to be mentally distracted from listening to the speaker. When you find your mind drifted away from active listening, deliberated re-focus again on the speaker and if you think that you have missed something important, ask them to repeat it.

· Listen with your eyes ~ watching the body language of the speaker will often avoid the mental distractions. Is the speaker angry, agitated, enthusiastic, or worried? How does that connect with what the speaker is saying?

· Look for the implied meaning ~ Listen for the way in which the words are used and emphasised. Different word stress can change a meaning dramatically. ‘This not that” is entirely different to “This not that

· Ignore outside distractions ~ If the conversation is taking place in a noisy place, you will have difficulty hearing never mind listening. Try to move the location to a quieter place, but if this is not possible you will really have to concentrate on the speaker. Remember if the person thought it was important enough to bring it to your attention they deserve your full attention.

· Summarise often ~ This also helps to keep your attention focused on what is being said. It also indicates to the speaker that you are actively listening to what he is saying. The third major reason is that it is immediate and if there has been a misunderstanding it can be corrected at once.

· Show that you are listening ~ non-verbal interaction such as nodding your head, or looking at the speaker will also let the speaker know that you are listening to what he is saying. Confirming statements such as “I see”, “I understand” and questions such as “What happened then?” “What was the outcome?” will help to keep you focused on what is being said.

· Don’t interrupt ~ keep listening all the way through the message before you have your say. Don’t interrupt or change the subject.

Nature has given to man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak ~ Epictetus 200BC

The importance of listening has been recognised for centuries and yet listening is not about maintaining a polite silence just waiting for the speaker to pause for breath so we can start! It is not mentally rehearsing what we will say, once we can get a word in edgeways! Listening is about trying to understand how the speaker sees things and what they are really trying to convey to us.

All of us can benefit from improved listening skills, especially if we are in a supervisory position. Well-developed listening skills are essential to our personal and profession success.

Trischel covers the whole subject of Listening Skills in both our Management and Leadership Seminars why not register your interest at


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