Did You Hear Me? 5 Signs Your Listening Skills Need Work

Listening skills may seem like a natural ability, but they're not a strong suit for everyone. Just think of a time you gave someone clear instructions, only to be asked a question you just addressed. It’s very annoying. Could you be unintentionally causing the same annoyance in others? Here are five key signs your listening skills need improvement.

Is listening a personal weakness? I suspect few people, if anyone, will admit to needing work on this skill.

We all like to think we’re the type of person our colleagues and business contacts can turn to for thoughtful input and advice. Yet, we know there are people out there who frustrate us by failing to stay engaged in a conversation, so there is a chance you may be in that group.

It’s time for a little self-reflection. Have you ever done the following while listening to someone?

1. You’re thinking of other things.

A vendor is going on and on about the new features of a product, and you’re making a mental checklist of the things you need to do when you get off the call. If you’ve let your mind wander, you’re not truly present in the discussion. And don’t get me started on looking at your cell phone while someone’s talking …

2. You’re one step ahead of the speaker.

You feel engaged in the conversation because you’re already thinking about the suggestions you’ll make when the person gets to a particular point. However, if you’re mentally preparing in advance while someone is speaking, you really aren’t listening intently. You’re very likely to miss important messages.

3. You hear the words but don’t notice nonverbal cues.

Being a good listener goes beyond just hearing what someone has to say. You need to take in the entire conversation, and that includes noticing body language, facial expressions and tone. If you’re doodling on paper during a meeting, for instance, you may not notice a speaker is tense, indicating that the news being shared may be more serious than words alone imply.

4. You interrupt.

What better way to show you’re a good listener and engaged in the discussion than by participating! If you’re not waiting until there’s a pause in the talk, though, before sharing your feedback, you’re being rude. Even making positive comments like, “That’s a great point!” can distract the speaker. The only acceptable time to interrupt is to prevent embarrassment or if there’s a firm end time (e.g., “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need to begin the next conference call now.”).

5. You don’t know what to say when prompted for feedback.

If you’re truly listening, you should be able to engage in a conversation when the speaker asks for input about what was shared – even if you’re just noting that you agree with recommendations or need clarification on a point. If you can’t think of a thing to say about what you’ve heard, that's a sign you should focus on improving your listening skills.

How do you stay actively focused as a listener, especially when you’re not particularly interested in a topic? Share your tips with others below.

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