Tips to Improve Listening Skills



As a communication professor, I hear this well-known quote among my colleagues often:

“The biggest problem with communication is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.”

We find this issue prevalent in today’s culture more than ever with the growing use of technology and its many distractions that weaken our ability to connect with others. AWARENESS CHECK: The next time you have a conversation with a group of people, take a step back and see what others do. You’ll will most likely see that people don’t really wait, they jump to answer, they reply fast and with an idea that is not necessarily thought-provoking as it is a matter of conjecture. People don’t truly listen, they are quick to speak and quick to voice opinion rather than truly listening to the entire speaker’s message or story. Listening is a vital part of learning, living, and most importantly relationship building. Here are some tips to help you advance your listening skills. 2

Three Tips to improve your Listening Skills
Don’t Speak First

When in conversation, especially one that goes through a variety of topics, don’t immediately reply. Let the information filter in your mind before you think about what the next response will be. You’ll have to focus on the words that are being stated and contrast that with your own opinion. Highlight fact and opinion separately so that you can get a response that is equally thoughtful. If you take a moment to think about what is stated, you will find that you will have a more fulfilling conversation with someone.

Maintain Eye Contact and Focus

The hardest thing to do for some is maintain eye contact. You have to make sure that you’re able to maintain your composure, look into their eyes (or at their nose – staring into their eyes too long is just scary) and just focus on the conversation. When you look away or you are focusing on other things, you will start to wander off in your mind. However, if you maintain eye contact and listen to the words spoken, you will see an improvement in your retention, memory and concentration. Even if you’re shy or introverted, this will help you gain composure and confidence over time. Practice in the mirror if you have to, it will pay off.

Never Interrupt

Even if the person that you’re speaking to is completely off base, wrong or you don’t feel that they are making sense, let them finish. This may be tough, it may even pull at your nerves, but you have to let them finish. When you allow someone to get a full thought out then you can systematically respond appropriately. Don’t interrupt, don’t push your way into the conversation, let it flow naturally.

Remember, if you are thinking about how to respond to what the other person is saying, then you are not listening. You don’t have to respond instantly. Acknowledge the speaker with an appropriate nonverbal confirmation response (For example, a nod of the head or a hand on the shoulder). Then if you would like to respond, let the person know your thoughts or feedback. Honing our listening skills and practicing is really what it takes to improve our listening habits. Trust me, this is something I have been working on myself. What are your Listening habits like? I’d love to know so share below!

 Education & Resources

Try this Great Exercise from Dianne Schilling:

For a Week: 

At the end of every conversation in which information is exchanged, conclude with a summary statement.

In conversations that result in agreements about future obligations or activities, summarizing will not only ensure accurate follow-through, it will feel perfectly natural.

In conversations that do not include agreements, if summarizing feels awkward just explain you are doing it as an exercise!

Dianne Schilling is a writer, editor, graphic artist and instructional designer who specializes in the development of educational materials  READ MORE From Dianne:


Test Your Listening Knowledge

Listening is far more complex than most of us realize. Hearing is the first step, and almost the same for all of us; but interpreting and making meaning of what is being said, truly listening, is different for each of us. To test your assumptions about listening, take their quiz.

About Ellie Parvin

Ellie is a Communication Consultant, Professor, Speaker, Writer, Mentor, Coach and has a passion for motivating and inspiring others by sharing her insight, expertise and lessons learned. She loves to teach and is a Communication Professor, as well as a Fitness instructor. She teaches Business Communication, Media & Culture, Public Speaking and Academic Writing. Ellie is obsessed with the way people communicate and how various personal and environmental factors can alter the perception of information/message/meaning delivered and received between those in communication. She received her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University and M.A. in Communications & Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Published Thesis: Critical Theory and Gender Communication Studies in Small Organizations.

6 comments on “Tips to Improve Listening Skills

  1. These tips work well with some people–those whose listening habits are externally driven. But, people whose listening patterns differ, the tips would have to be modified to fit their brain and emotional functioning. There are no easy techniques that will turn someone into an intelligent listener.

    • Excellent insight here MJthier! I absolutely agree. I think you would actually appreciate my previous post(s) that address how to respond to mis-comprehension of what a person heard or understood and/or get clarification.

      It sounds like you have experience with this. Is there anything you practice to improve your listening skills? I would love to hear them!

      At the end of the day there are many tips to help us become intelligent listeners. The truth is we are human and we will have days that we are “in our heads”, impatient and such – we aren’t perfect. The key is that if we don’t continue to practice new and/or techniques that work to improve our listening skills then we won’t grow and become as good as we possible can be.
      The point is if we do try/care about our enhancing our listening ability we open ourselves up to improving our connections and relationships with others. In my world that is a wonderful thing.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

      • Ellie, my company is all about listening (Listening Impact) and I developed an online instrument, Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio(R) that assesses how people listen–the habits they’ve established over their lifetime in their brain, body, and emotions. As you say, the contexts in which we listen influence who/what we pay attention to, so there is no one-size-fits-all model–each of us is a unique listener.

        Thanks for our mutual work.

        • Amazing! Your company is specifically geared towards helping those go deeper into the process of helping people understand and improve their “listening comprehension” … Brilliant.

          What is the website? I would love to see it and include this as a “place/resource” for others to visit at the end if this post!

          • Thanks Ellie. The website is Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio(R) is on the website as is the blog.

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