How to improve listening skills</p>
<p>Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I've noticed a lot of people think they're great listeners. They make assumptions and interrupt, but that doesn't stop them from proudly proclaiming, "I'm a great listener!" I think most people assume they learned how to listen when they were in elementary school, so taking a second look at how to improve listening skills as an adult seems like a waste.

Well, let me ruin your party. Your listening could be a lot better than it is. Listening is a skill that requires constant practice, refinement, and reflection. Sure, some people are better than others, but that doesn't mean there's no hope for the rest of us.

See, I'm willing to admit I'm not the best listener. I get in my head and start worrying about what I'm going to say next or whether or not the people I'm talking to think I'm dumb. I also get defensive and distracted and have that awful habit of making every conversation all about me. Gross.

But me being a meh listener is actually a super power. Over the years, I've developed a whole bunch of tips and tricks for how to improve listening skills because I know I can do better. And I know it takes constant practice.

So here are some tips for how to improve listening skills. (I hope you're listening.)

9 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

1. Shut Up

It's hard to listen when your talk hole is yapping, so try zipping your lips to improve your listening skills.

I tend to get excited when I start talking to someone. Suddenly, I want to tell them my life story. But that doesn't make for a great conversation.

So I try to resist the urge to talk incessantly and just shut the hell up instead.

This way, other people can get a word in and my super listening powers can begin!

2. Make Eye Contact

Instead of checking your phone or scanning the room for something more interesting, look at whoever you're talking to! Make eye contact and try to block out distractions.

Active listening isn't just about hearing people's words. It's about paying attention to body language and subtle changes in people's mood and energy. So make that eye contact and pick up as much detail as you can.

3. Pause

Before jumping in and interrupting, take a pause. One answer for how to improve listening skills is to give the other person enough space to be able to finish their thoughts.

Jumping down people's throats may keep the conversation lively, but it doesn't do us any favors when we're talking about improving our listening.

Just breathe and take a beat before you respond. Make sure your conversation partner has finished their entire thought and actually wants to give you a turn talking before you just jump right in.

4. Repeat

One way to test whether or not you're listening is to repeat what other people are saying. Now, you don't need to be a parrot, but parroting just a few key words back can really show that you're engaged and listening intently.

Someone says they sold their house and are worried they made the wrong decision? You can respond with, "You're worried" before moving on to the next talk nugget.

It helps me slow down and pick out key details and helps those I'm speaking to feel heard. Win win.

5. Clarify

Instead of assuming you understand what people are telling you, make sure. It doesn't hurt to stop and ask for some clarification.

You can say things like "so you're saying..." or "let me get this straight..." Then ask a clarifying question to ensure you're on the right track.

Don't be embarrassed about getting on the same page as the person your speaking to. It actually shows that you're...gasp...listening.

6. Ask Questions

Beyond clarifying, probing questions can also help exhaust topics during conversations. Sometimes we bounce from one tangent to another because no one is asking relevant follow up questions.

Change all that by pretending you're a detective or a hard-hitting reporter. And ask away. Figure our what makes them tick and why they're saying what they're saying. Get all the deets.

People usually like talking about themselves. So, indulge them and be genuinely curious about what makes them interesting.

7. Don't Talk about Yourself

Conversely, stop making everything about you. I know it can be a tough pill to swallow, but not every convo has to be about you. You're not special. 

Let me first fess up and tell you that I'm super guilty of this. If someone tells me about their job, I talk about my job. If they tell me about their kid, I talk about my daughter. If they talk about how they went to prison, I somehow tell a tale about that one time I got detention.

Not good!

Resist the urge to make it all about you. Instead, make it all about what ever people are actually talking about.

The bonus: more people will probably want to talk to you because you'll be a gold star conversationalist.

8. Stay Within the Circle of the Conversation

Keith Johnstone has an idea called "staying within the circle of the story." It means that if you're telling a story about a penguin in the zoo, you shouldn't introduce a martian or cannibalism because they're not pertinent to the details that were introduced in the exposition of the story.

The idea is that humans know what makes sense and what doesn't, so throwing in random shit doesn't sit well with us.

This applies to conversations, as well. If someone is talking about their promotion and their boss, don't talk about your finances or the interview you just aced because that's not in the circle of the conversation. Keep exploring the ideas that have already been brought up.

Only after that conversation has been exhausted should you jump into a new topic. This will help you with how to improve listening skills because it will help you pay more attention to what's actually being said.

9. Get out of your Head

If you're thinking about what to say next or whether or not you have something stuck in your teeth, it's probably pretty safe to say that you're not listening as actively as you could be.

So get out of your head by focusing intently on what other people are saying and reminding yourself to shift your focus every time you notice yourself overthinking.

Improv Can Help You Improve Your Listening Skills

Improv actually offers a lot of insights for how to shift your focus and find flow in the present moment. I've developed over 100 improv-inspired games to help you calm down, cheer up, stop spiraling, and embrace uncertainty...and listen better. There's definitely a whole chapter on listening!