How to improve your listening skills

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In a business environment, not listening effectively to customers, employees, and peers can mean the difference between success and failure. In personal relationships, it can make or break a friendship or a marriage. Hearing and understanding do not necessarily go together. You can walk away from a conversation with someone and not have a clue as to what they meant.

To truly hear and understand another person’s point of view, train yourself to apply these listening skills:

Face the speaker and maintain eye contact. Proper body language is important to ensure you are truly tuned in to the person speaking.

Keep an open mind when the person states an opinion that differs from your own.

Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your solutions too quickly. The person might just want someone to listen and may not be ready for advice or solutions.

Wait for the speaker to pause and ask clarifying questions. This tells the person you are trying to understand what is being said.

Ask questions only to ensure understanding—avoid questions that disrupt the speaker’s train of thought. Questions should be simple and to the point.

Don’t jump to conclusions and complete the speaker’s sentences—give the person time to state his or her case.

Pay attention to what isn’t said—to feelings, facial expressions, gestures, posture and other nonverbal clues.

Listening with understanding is a gift. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts and improve accuracy. The next time someone wants to talk to you, tear down the barriers and apply these skills to achieve true understanding.

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