Picture this: You’re having a conversation with a colleague, and they’re telling you about a problem they’re having at work. You're smiling and nodding, but you're not really hearing them. Then they ask for your opinion about what they just said, and you have no idea how to respond.

You’re busted. You haven’t been listening.

Now imagine you're talking to a client. They are sharing a story with you, and they pause for effect...and instead of letting them finish the story, you jump in with a guess about what they're going to say next. Your client gets an annoyed look on their face and clams up. The conversation is over.

Sound familiar?

Most people are not born good listeners, and it’s not something we usually think about. Listening is a critical communication skill you have to learn, but it’s not taught in school like reading, writing, or even public speaking.

In this article, you’ll learn how to assess your own listening skills, and get a few key pieces of advice on becoming a better listener.

Why Listening Is a Critical Skill

The bottom line is that listening well makes us better communicators.

When we’re good listeners, it makes it more enjoyable to speak with us because we make people feel valued — which helps us build stronger, longer-lasting relationships. Strengthening our listening skills can improve our empathy as we better understand other people's thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Listening can even improve our personal and professional problem-solving skills.

So if listening is so important and it can do so many positive things for us, why are we so bad at it?

Assessment: Are You Bad at Listening?

Answer these quick questions to evaluate your listening skills.

Do you:

  • Often interrupt others when they’re talking?
  • Talk when others are talking?
  • Jump to conclusions before the speaker is finished talking?
  • Often have to ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Let your feelings towards the speaker affect your listening ability?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. In fact, like most people, you may not be the world’s greatest listener. Congratulations, you’re human!

Poor Listening Is the Human Condition

Have you ever wondered why we’re such lousy listeners?

There could be lots of reasons. We might be wrapped up in our thoughts, or distracted by someone or something. It could be that we’re mentally formulating a response to what the speaker is saying — so even subconsciously, we feel like we don't have to listen to the rest of what the speaker is going to say because we already know how we're going to respond.

Our brains contribute to the problem. A study at the University of Minnesota found that immediately after listening to a speaker, listeners could only remember 50% of what they heard, even when they thought they were listening well. Imagine how much we miss when we're not actively listening!

Another roadblock to good listening is that we speak at an average rate of 125 words a minute, but our brains are infinitely faster than that — so we're asking our brains to receive information at a much slower pace than it's capable of operating at. Our brains are racing ahead while we are slowly getting the information from the speaker. That's a lot for your brain to process.

3 Ways to Become a Better Listener

All is not lost! There are ways to become a better listener who can truly connect with people and make them feel valued. And there are huge benefits to building these skills.

Here are a few ways to become a master of listening:

1. Be aware that listening is a skill you can learn

Great listeners are made, not born. Listening is a skill you can develop with practice — and just as with any other skill, getting better at listening requires attention, focus, and a willingness to learn and improve.

Adopt a growth mindset and acknowledge that you can improve your listening abilities, so you can prioritize it in your personal and professional development plans.

Recognizing that listening is a skill also empowers you to seek out resources and support to improve your abilities. For example, you can attend training sessions, read books on active listening, or seek feedback from colleagues on your listening skills. You might be surprised by the feedback you get!

2. Practice active listening

One of the most effective ways to become a better listener is to practice active listening.

Active listening means concentrating on what the speaker is saying, without interrupting or being distracted. It involves paying attention not only to the speaker's words but also to their tone of voice, body language, and the emotions behind their message.

Keep in mind that active listening doesn’t come naturally to us, so it’s a practice we must consciously choose.

Here are some tips on how to actively listen:

  • Give your full attention: This means no peeking at your phone or computer while someone's talking. Make eye contact and show them you're really listening.
  • Listen without judgment: It can be tempting to interrupt or assume we know what someone's saying, but resist the urge. Listen with an open mind and withhold judgment until you've heard them out.
  • Clarify and paraphrase: To show you're really engaged in the conversation, ask clarifying questions and repeat back what they said in your own words.
  • Show empathy: If someone's opening up about their emotions or feelings, show you care by acknowledging their perspective and letting them know you understand.
  • Provide feedback: As the conversation is wrapping up, show them you were really listening by giving constructive feedback. Summarize what they said and thank them for sharing.

Being a good listener takes practice, but the effort will pay off in spades. By showing your colleagues and clients you're truly listening, you can build stronger relationships and even improve your own communication skills.

3. Focus on non-verbal communication

While words can convey meaning, non-verbal cues can provide valuable insights into the other person’s thoughts and emotions.

Watch the speaker's body language by paying attention to the speaker's posture, gestures, and facial expressions. This can give you clues about their emotional state and their level of engagement in the conversation.

Listen for changes in tone of voice. A shift in the speaker's tone of voice can indicate a change in their emotions or priorities. For example, a sudden rise in pitch may indicate excitement or urgency, while a drop in volume could show they’re feeling uncertain or uncomfortable.

Keep in mind that non-verbal communication can vary between cultures, so it's essential to be aware of cultural differences when interpreting non-verbal cues.

Listen Up! Here’s a Valuable Tool for Listening to Customers

Now let’s do another visualization: Imagine how good your colleagues, clients, friends, and family would feel when they know you’re giving them your full attention during your conversation.

Now think about how much you’ll be able to learn in the future, when you improve your listening skills.

Listening well is not an inborn talent for most people. If you’re not a great listener now, forgive yourself! You’re in good company.

By practicing active listening, focusing on non-verbal communication, and recognizing that listening is a skill that can be improved, you can become a more effective communicator and build stronger relationships.

But listening doesn't stop once the conversation is over. To understand your customers' needs and preferences, it's important to continue listening to their feedback and adapting your strategies accordingly. That’s where Showcase Workshop comes in.

With Showcase's reports, you can track which slides your customers are engaging with, giving you valuable insights into their interests and priorities. Use this information to tailor your sales approach and customize your presentations to meet your customers’ needs.

Try out Showcase Workshop for free to start getting the feedback you need from your customers. Then get ready to put those new listening skills to work!