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6 Ways to Become a Better Listener Listening is one of the most foundational and critical skills in building relationships at home and at work. It's not always easy to listen well, but with practice, we can all improve our skills. Here's six ways you can start.

By Amy M Chambers Edited by Kara McIntyre

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to communication, talking isn't nearly as important as listening. However, being an outstanding listener isn't something most of us are taught formally or even informally. Listening well is difficult for many of us.

The great news is that listening is a practice. It's something we can get better at. Most of us are not as good at listening as we think we are. Most of us are also not as good as we'd like to be. Listening to understand is far different than listening to respond. Actively listening for meaning and intent, and doing it well, is one of the most important things we can do to propel our relationships forward. If you'd like to become a better listener, here are six ways you can do it.

Related: Why Active Listening Is a Critical Skill for Founders and Entrepreneurs

1. Decide to truly care about both the person you're listening to and what they're saying

Sometimes, we're tasked with listening to someone who isn't our favorite person. Other times, we're tasked with listening to something that isn't our favorite topic. When this happens, we often only partially listen. We're physically there, but mentally, we're thinking about something else. You'll listen better when you make a concerted effort to truly care about the person you're listening to and whatever they're talking about. You can choose to do this.

Recently, I attended a Rotary Club meeting where the guest speaker told us she could answer any question about any U.S. President. I wasn't overly interested in the topic but made a conscious effort to both value her and what she had to say. By the end of the talk, I was shocked by how fascinating her information was. It was far easier to stay engaged when I told myself "I care about this person and her research," and decided to act as such.

2. Look for feeling words

Behind nearly all the stories we tell, there are feelings. People often tell us what happened, but they sometimes forget to tell us about how it made them feel. If you're not clear on how someone feels about whatever they're sharing, simply ask. You could say, "So, what was that experience like for you?" or "How do you feel about what happened?"

Getting to announce or release our feelings is like emotional oxygen for us. When we get to share, out loud, that we're feeling angry, overwhelmed, helpless or upset, we often feel heard and seen. Wanting to know how others feel about what's happening in their lives is a way of showing them how much we value and acknowledge them.

3. Ask questions

Asking both clarifying questions (making sure you've understood what you've heard) and follow-up questions (asking for more information) is a way of showing we're actively paying attention to the development of what's being shared, and that it's important to us we fully understand it. It's a way for the speaker to know the audience is captive and wants more. It creates a dialogue and also means we get to learn more about the parts of the story we care about most.


4. Know their goals and repeat back what you've heard

If you want to listen to someone more attentively, be sure you know what they're passionate about. If you don't know, find out. The more you're familiar with someone's goals or dreams, the easier it is to listen because you can tie what they're saying back to that. Knowing more about someone's purpose or objective helps you understand why what they're saying is so important. Later, when you check for understanding regarding what you heard, you can connect these dots together.

You might say, "It sounds like it's important for you to go back to school next year, so I'm sure all this work you're doing now to submit applications will pay off" or "I know you said you're focusing on your health and fitness right now, so congratulations on working so hard this past week" or "what I'm understanding is this, is that right?" When we paraphrase what we've heard, we show the speaker that two things matter to us. First, they get to share their message. Second, we understand it.

5. Stay in the moment

If you truly want to listen, let listening be your only activity at that moment. Don't multitask while you're listening. Don't glance at your phone or computer. Give the speaker your complete, full, and undivided attention. Make eye contact and use other non-verbal clues to help your speaker feel they're the most important thing to you at that moment. This might include taking notes on what they're saying or nodding and smiling at key moments in the story.

Related: The 7 Things Great Listeners Do Differently

6. When possible, listen in person

While you can practice all these techniques in remote or electronic environments, listening is often best done in person. If the topic of discussion is highly important or personal, having conversations in person often creates the best outcome. When we're together physically, it's easier to see when someone is wrapping up their statements and ready to turn the floor over to you for a response, so it's less likely you'll interrupt someone before they're done sharing. It's also easier to see and sense the emotions your speaker is feeling. Additionally, it's less tempting to glance at the email or text message you just received when you're in person when it's more obvious that you've broken contact with the speaker. So whenever possible, try to have your most meaningful conversations in person.

Listening is the cornerstone of great communication and great relationships. Usually, when we talk, we do so because we want to share our thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. When we feel we've been both heard and understood, we function better. We feel happy and loved, which allows us to be our best selves and do our best work. We also are more able and likely to hear others once we've been heard. When you listen well, you give others a wonderful gift which undoubtedly will improve all your relationships.

Amy M Chambers

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Executive Coach, Life Coach, and #1 International Bestselling Author

Amy Chambers spent 21 years in financial services and has 15 years of experience in leadership, leading over 500 people to success. She's the author of the #1 international bestselling book, The 7 V.I.R.T.U.E.S. of Exceptional Leaders. She completed her undergrad at Notre Dame and her MBA at USC.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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