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Improve Your Communication with Effective Listening

8 Tips for Better Communication

When we are involved in conversations, we often find ourselves waiting to talk instead of really listening. Here is how you can cultivate better listening skills to promote more effective communication at work and at home.

Face the speaker. Body language can have a big impact on our ability to engage with someone. If you are staring at your shoes, scanning your phone or looking around the room, you can expect the other person to feel frustrated and unimportant.

Be attentive, but relaxed. When you are communicating with someone, it's important to be present in the moment. You should project an attentive attitude, while maintaining a relaxed, non-confrontational posture. You should also screen out distractions, while paying little attention to your personal feelings, thoughts or biases.

Keep an open mind. Don't indulge your personal agendas or make judgments. If you hear something that unsettles you, refrain from expressing this in a negative way. Never attempt to guess where the speaker is going with the conversation and attempt to head him or her off by interrupting or completing a sentence.

Try to picture what you hear. It's often helpful to form a mental model of the information you hear. When you create a literal image based on abstract concepts, your brain can stay alert and engaged for longer stretches, even if the information isn't particularly intriguing or fresh.

Don't impose your perspective. Avoid interrupting with solutions, even if you think they can help. This tells the speaker that you are more important than him or her, or that you don't have time to listen. Interruptions can also create resentment, while making conversations feel more like contests. If you are a fast thinker or adept speaker, you may feel compelled to butt in. Resist this impulse, even when speakers clumsily repeat themselves or say things you find disagreeable.

Wait for a pause. Once the speaker has paused, ask him or her to clarify specific points if necessary. This can help clear up miscommunication, while also forcing the speaker to take a second look at whether something he or she said was really true or fair.

Use questions to keep things on track. If the speaker takes the conversation in the wrong direction, ask questions to get things back on track. For example, let's say you are discussing a disagreement about a particular topic, and the other person begins rambling or brings up other similar examples of your behavior in an attempt to bolster his or her point. You can bring the focus back to the matter at hand by asking how the person would like you to handle this one particular issue in the future. Always try to keep focus on the matter at hand, so you won't get dragged into an unproductive discussion that devolves into a convoluted argument.

Give feedback. Without interrupting, let the speaker know you have heard what he or she has said. Repeat some of what you heard or ask follow-up questions to prove that you were, in fact, listening. If you are expected to provide your own judgments or opinion in the feedback, try to maintain an empathetic approach that isn't judgmental, condescending or defensive. It's also a good idea to restate instructions and messages - whether you are at work or at home - to convey that you understand what the other person has said.

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