Improving Listening Skills

Improving listening skills is critical for effective communication and connecting with others.

Poor listening skills are frequently an underlying cause of misunderstandings, conflicts, stress and injured feelings. By improving these skills many communication problems can be reduced or eliminated.

Setting the Environment for Improving Listening Skills

Being in the moment—engagement

As the importance of a conversation increases so should the engagement. Being engaged means listening closely to what is said and striving to understand. Then, responding clearly and concisely.

Observing body language and voice are also important for effective engagement. Here are some ways to improve engagement.

First, reduce or eliminate distractions as much as possible. Or, move to a location where distractions are minimized.

Next, have good eye contact. Good eye contact sends a strong signal of engagement. It is also reduces the effect of outside distractions when listening to someone.

Third, observe the other person’s body language. People speak with their bodies and it is important to listen with all the senses.

Body language includes such things as composure, posture, fidgeting, facial expressions and more.

Voice is a key component of body language. It includes tone, pitch, volume and rate of speech.

Your own body language is also important. Be aware of the signals you are sending out. During a conversation ask yourself: Is my body language (and voice) indicating I am engaged? If not, can I adjust my body and/or voice to be more engaged?

Finally, be ready to receive communication. Busy schedules, personal pressures, how you feel physically and/or emotionally and a host of other factors can act as distracters to being engaged in a conversation. If the distracters are significantly harmful to the conversation, than consider postponing until later.


Acknowledgment and positive reinforcement

Providing verbal, as well as non-verbal acknowledgement during a conversation are effective ways to ensure that people feel listened to.

Verbal signals that indicate good listening include statements such as “Yes, I understand”, or “Can you restate that?” or “I agree.”

Non-verbal indications of engagement includes signals such as the head moving up and down in agreement and leaning slightly forward.


A Non-judgmental attitude

Being non-judgmental when listening shows another person an open-minded attitude. No one enjoys being judged. By taking a stance of being adaptable, flexible and non-criticizing, people feel more comfortable. Communication will be more open and honest.



We all have needs. Filling these needs is key to improving listening skills. It encourages good communication and connections.

One of our strongest needs is to be validated. We feel validated when others accept and respect our ideas, even when they don’t agree.

Validation signals our importance. When we feel important, we feel listened to. Validating comes from engagement, acknowledgement, positive reinforcement and a non-judgmental attitude.

Validating is a skill that has several levels. The highest level of validation is emotional engagement and understanding. When people sense that you understand who they are and what they are about, they have a greater sense of being listened to. Few things make people feel more cared about and valued.

Final thoughts:

Apologizing when making a mistake is strong indicator of validation. It shows maturity and responsibility for ones actions.

Forgiveness is equally strong for showing validation. We all make mistakes. Forgiveness when someone apologizes shows the ability to acknowledge that we are all human.

In summary, improving listening skills can be accomplished using engagement, acknowledgment,positive reinforcement, being non-judgmental and validating others.

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