How well would you rate your listening skills on a scale of 1-10?  If 1 was ‘I didn’t even know there was someone else in the room’ and 10 equals super power skills that were so great you should have your own character in the Avengers, where do you fall?

We would like to think that we are super charged but the reality is most struggle to get past 1.   The challenges start with the distinction between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening.  Hearing is simply taking in of sound, it is a critical part of listening but it doesn’t always follow that when we are hearing we are listening.

Listening is a complex and demanding task, it requires concentration, mental commitment and the ability to maintain and open mind to the information coming in. The brains ability to process sound is an amazing thing, Neuroscience has shown that it while it may take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye and respond, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least ten times as fast.

The simple act of listening has developed as an essential survival skill but we are often not aware of its impact in todays modern world.  Our failure to listen affects the way we learn and make effective decisions.

The good news is that listening is a skill and like any skill it can be learnt and practiced.  With application of time and effort we can significantly improve the way we listen and therefore the quality of our communication.

The following are seven simple practices to improve your listening abilities:

Think about your surroundings.  – To listen well you need to minimise distraction.  In a work environment you might move a meeting from a noisey work station to a quiet meeting room or take a colleague for a coffee or a walk away from the day to day interruptions that could intrude.

Focus your attention –Individuals can’t process what they fail to attend to. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb mode’ have a signal to others that you don’t want to be disturbed.

Do a mental check in and reset your mindset – Do you have any preconceived bias to the person or information that is being discussed?  Do you hate a particular topic and therefore try to rush the conversation?  Do a mental reset and try to identify the filters that could impact on what you are hearing. 

Limit your talking.  If you are listening, you can’t be the one talking.

Concentration on what is being communicated – Try not to mentally jump ahead or guess the next question or plan your next answer.

Show interest – This might sound obvious but the biggest difference between someone who is hearing versus listening is the ability to show genuine interest in what they are saying.

Ask questions – Use more open than closed questions to check your understanding. Use questions to help summarise and confirm the information.

Taking the time to practice the skill of effective listening will give its own rewards. We are what we repeatedly do and how you communicate is a critical part of the quality of your relationships in both work and life.

This is definitely a super power worth investing in….