Job Success: Listening Skills

Lesson 8: Listening Skills


Listening skills

One person speaks into another person's ear

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to...

  • Understand the importance of listening
  • Identify ways to demonstrate active listening

Are you a good listener?

You appreciate it when others listen to what you have to say, especially in the workplace. Have you ever wondered if you are a good listener? Do you...

  • Talk when others are talking
  • Often have to ask people to repeat themselves
  • Often interrupt others when they're talking
  • Let your feelings for the speaker interfere with your listening ability
  • Jump to conclusions before the speaker is finished talking

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you may need to improve your listening skills.

Characteristics of poor listeners

The following are all examples of poor listening skills.

  • Poor listeners use statements blocking the person speaking from fully explaining his or her point.
    Examples: "The facts are..." "You had better..." "You should..." "It doesn't really matter..."
  • Poor listeners interrupt the speaker, use thoughts from what the other person has just said, and express their own thoughts.
    Examples: "Oh, well, I know. Listen to what happened to me in that situation..."
  • Poor listeners talk about their thoughts without giving any indication that they heard what another person has said.
    Examples: Speaker: "I am feeling really overworked and stressed out." Listener: "Have you seen my keys?"

What is active listening?

An employee showing bad and good body language

In the workplace, people don't always say what they mean. Learning to become a better listener can greatly improve workplace communication. Active listening is listening beyond words in order to understand a deeper message. Active listeners are able to detect and reflect the feelings that give emotional energy to language.

Watch the video below to learn some tips for active listening.

Follow these tips to become a more active listener:

  • Focus your attention on the speaker and the topic. Find a quiet space where you can avoid distraction.
  • Set aside your own feelings and prejudices. Remind yourself that you're there to be the listener, not offer your opinion.
  • Pay attention to the speaker's body language and facial expressions. This is often the way to sense how someone is really feeling.
  • Use door openers. These statements convey interest and keep the person talking.
    Examples: "Tell me more..." "That sounds interesting..." "When did it happen..."
  • Paraphrase feelings accurately. The listener waits until the speaker pauses, as if expecting some sort of response from the listener. The listener makes a statement labeling the feeling he or she heard.
    Examples: "You're saying..." "You feel that..." "If I understand you, you feel this way about this situation..." "You say you feel ___________, but you seem ___________ when talking about this..."
  • Paraphrase content accurately. The listener waits until the speaker has finished speaking and repeats the content of what he or she has heard in his or her own words.
    Examples: "In other words, it is your decision to..." "These seem to be the key ideas you have expressed..."
  • Ask non-threatening questions. Keep your questions to a minimum. Give the speaker an opportunity to think about the question before he or she responds. Try asking questions that will help the speaker arrive at his or her own conclusions.
    Examples: "How?" "What?" "Could?" "Would?" "Is?" "Are?" "Do?" "Did?"
  • Use acknowledgment responses. These statements pull together ideas and facts, as well as establish a basis for further understanding.
    Examples: "Mmm..." "Yes..." "Right..." "Certainly..."

Using these techniques, the listener feels validated and supported without being judged.

Body language and listening skills

Good listening is more than what words you use when listening. Active listeners communicate without interrupting. They use body language to demonstrate their attention and interest.

While listening actively:

  • Occasionally nod your head in agreement with what the speaker is saying.
  • Don't fold your arms. The speaker may interpret it as a sign of negativity or hostility.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile encouragingly.
  • Lean forward slightly.
  • Give the speaker personal space.
  • Active Listening: An article from Mind Tools about how to be an active listener
  • ThoughtCo: Secondary Education: Although this content is geared toward secondary-school educators, it's helpful for anyone hoping to improve their listening skills.