Tips for Better Listening

Listening should be an active, rather than a passive activity.

  • Actively check your understanding of the speaker's message. Restate or paraphrase what you've heard to make sure you've understood what the other person is saying. Don't evaluate ideas until you're sure that you understand them.
  • Avoid judging or negatively labeling people. Recognize your own prejudices. If you prejudge someone as incompetent or uninformed, you won't pay attention to what they have to say. Withhold judgment until after you've heard and evaluated their message’s content.
  • Avoid anticipating what the other person will say next. When you anticipate, you stop listening. Focus your attention on the present to truly hear what the other person is saying.
  • Avoid competitive listening in which you are more interested in promoting your own view than understanding the other person's. Mentally arguing, listening for weak points to attack, or mentally formulating your rebuttal prevents you from hearing what is being said.
  • Listen for and respond to the emotion behind the words. Is the speaker angry? Frustrated? Looking for encouragement? You can only understand the real message if you get to the emotion behind it.
  • Don't take notes on everything. You may miss important, nonverbal cues and you might distract speakers or make them uncomfortable, inhibiting discussion. It's also harder to focus on what you're hearing while you’re writing.

Portions adapted from “Active listening is more than just hearing,” Roland B. Cousins, Supervision, September 2000.

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