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How Can I Improve My Listening Skills?

Updated: May 17, 2021

To be a great communicator it is crucial to be a great listener. Let’s take Oprah Winfrey for example, Oprah is known for her ‘talk’ shows but that is not why so many people love her. It is due to her incredible listening skills and empathy that she has harnessed over so many years.

Now you, like many others, may find yourself wondering why you are unable to listen to others as much as they would like you to or find this skill difficult to master. It is all well and good someone telling us that we need to listen more or improve our listening skills, but how do we do it?!

If you are blessed enough in this world to have full function of your hearing, then you will hear on average 450 words per minute. The challenge is that research suggests we only remember about 17% - 25% of what is being communicated. Now your listening ability may be much less than this, so let’s look at how we can increase your skills.

Firstly, the number one way to start listening more effectively is to remove as many distractions as possible. Mobile phone off or in another room, TV and music off. Then, let’s explore the barriers to listening so that you can start to identify and understand them before committing to changes you will make. Take a look at the barriers below and think about times when you have experienced them as they are very common.

Here are five of the major barriers to listening –

1. Comparing the Situation Being Discussed With What You Would Have Done Instead

When a person does this, it breaks up what they are hearing by adding their own thoughts. When this happens there may also be subconscious changes to body language or facial expression that could make the other person you are talking to feel defensive. Comparing would also make you start to prejudge, and this is against one of the skills that is required to be non-judgemental and accept a person as they are.

2. Dreaming

This can occur when the person you are listening to triggers something for you in your life and you can start having private internal conversations with yourself on the topic for a few minutes. This would make the other person you were in the conversation with think you were disinterested and also you may have to ask them to repeat themselves or miss valuable information that has said been said.

3. Rehearsing

This can occur when you are planning what to ask or say next instead of actually focusing on what the other person is saying. Again, this can reduce trust and credibility from their perspective. It can totally make you miss vital information in a conversation. It can also be seen by the other person as competing to communicate.

4. Derailing

This is when the conversation may be changed suddenly because one of the people present in the session gets bored or starts to become uncomfortable, so they swap to another subject. This can be very annoying to the other person in the conversation. It could irritate and lose their trust. If it is not you that does this and the other person does it, I suggest remaining calm and ask a question that brings them back to the subject or addresses the derailing behaviour.

5. Mind Reading

This is when you are fixating on what the other person is not saying and looking for hidden meanings, this can cause them to not fully trust you and then you miss words or phrases because you are not in the present.

It’s also important to know that listening is one of the greatest skills to have. Especially as we are starting to be more vocal about our emotions, at work or within our home life.

We also listen with our eyes. Body language accounts for 93% of what is being communicated. It is impossible to be in close proximity to someone and not communicate. It’s why so many people get frustrated when another person is on their phone a lot. So, the next time someone tells you they are listening to you even though they are on their phone or watching TV then show them this article.

It’s not about communicating, it’s about effective communication.


The Modern Mind Group are emotioneering human performance not engineering it. As a learning and performance consultancy, we work with your business to identify and improve performance gaps so that you can be more profitable and professionally develop your people. Over 10 years of expertise in learning and performance with results to back it all up. Why settle for the average when there is a world of possibility when you know how to achieve it? Untapped potential - Let's go get it!


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