How do you improve your listening skills? The first thing you need to do is become aware of how you listen or how you don’t listen. When you are involved in a conversation, are you dedicated to hearing what the other person is saying? The first step is to give your full attention to who is speaking, stop whatever you are doing, and eliminate any distractions such as reading, texting or working on the computer.

Once you have given your full attention to the speaker, put the speaker at ease by using body language cues. Relax your body. Keep your hands either at your sides or if you are sitting, place them on your lap. When you put your hands in front of you by crossing or clasping them, it acts as a barrier between you and the speaker.

Allow the speaker plenty of time before you answer or say something in return. Pause for ten seconds to see if the speaker has anything else to say. People get uncomfortable with silence and try to fill the space. This is often when they say what they really mean rather than beating around the bush.

Listen with your eyes and not just your ears. People can misdirect with their words but most of the time they struggle keeping their body language from telling how they feel. Notice if they continually avert their eyes, which means they are uncomfortable with the subject. They might show tension by rubbing their eyes or forehead. They might also use their body language to block you by crossing their arms.

Always allow the other person to finish what they are saying, even if you know what they are going to say. Let them complete their thoughts. They will appreciate this small gesture, because they will feel your patience. By not interrupting, you are telling them that every word they say is valuable.

If they are angry and venting, allow them to vent. Give them time to wind down with their venting before you attempt to say anything. Many times when a person can get the words out, part of the anger is lost with the release of the words. Remember if they are angry, be patient. Also, remember to take yourself out of the equation. In other words, don’t take their anger personally.

Here are a few more keys to effective listening:

  1. Empathize. Let them know you are trying to understand.
  2. Paraphrase. Summarize what you heard and repeat it back to the speaker.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Use questions for clarification.
  4. Allow reflection. Be a sounding board where people can feel free to say things without the fear of judgment.

Listening is a skill. It will help you gain information, understand others, improve your relationships, build commitments, and effectively handle complaints. When people feel understood, they are more willing to trust you. Trust is the number one indicator of positive outcomes in business as well as personal endeavors.