Communication begins with understanding and in order to understand one has to listen. Before anyone can delve into the nuances of communication such as identifying ambiguous words and phrases or recognizing the arguments in support of a conclusion, it has to be heard. Improving verbal communication begins with better listening.

Are You a Good Listener?

Most people suck at listening. I know I do. I have to be vigilant during conversations because if I don’t, I drift away. The good listeners I’ve met are few and far between. And that’s why it’s so important that we’re all aware of what diminishes our ability to listen.

Not long ago I was at a gathering where several past co-workers and friends attended. I sat and chatted with a few. One excitedly told me about what she’d been doing and asked where I worked? I told her, and she said she’d heard of TKO. She went on sharing about her life and after 10 or 15 minutes, once again asked me where I worked.

I’m not throwing any stones, because I can’t name the number of times I’ve been introduced to someone and five minutes later couldn’t recall their name or occupation. It’s something I‘m working on. If you’d like to join me in an exercise on improving verbal communication, let’s begin with these five areas.

Listen Actively

Concentrate on hearing and understanding what others are communicating. I use a mental checklist.

  • Make and maintain eye contact
  • Concentrate on what’s being said
  • Clarify your understanding by repeating points
  • Ask questions
  • Pay attention to the speaker’s body language
  • Respond appropriately—never attack
  • Take notes

Don’t Interrupt

There is no surer sign of a lack of listening than interrupting. Few would argue that interrupting someone in mid-conversation is acceptable behavior. It’s not. It’s rude, self-centered, and disruptive. So, why do people interrupt others?

  • We think we know what the speaker is about to say
  • We believe what we have to share can’t wait
  • We’re impatient, and we think the speaker is taking too long to get to the point
  • We’re in a hurry and rather than share our time restraints we abruptly cut the speaker off

Keep an Open Mind

It’s easy to get sucked into believing you’ve heard  what is about to be said. We must think we’re mind readers or psychic. We stereotype people and rather than listen we drift off because we believe we’ve heard it all before. Or we hear a key word or phrase that signals us that we’re about to hear something we’ve previously heard. Both of these instances might be true. However, we can’t know for certain unless we maintain an open mind and listen.

Limit Distractions

I watched a speaker recently who laid her phone on the table before presenting. Throughout her presentation, she would glance at her phone. Twice when her phone pinged, and she picked it up, and read the information. Once she responded with a quick type and swipe. It was a lesson for me. Next week I’ll be presenting on blogging. My phone will stay in my car.

Limiting distractions includes visual distractions, interruptions, and media. Turn it off. Go to a quiet place. Don’t allow others to interrupt.

Stop the Head Talk

Stop having a conversation with your subconscious. Whether you’re thinking about your to-do list or formulating a response—just say no. When you find you’re talking to the voice inside your head, shut it off and get back to concentrating on the speaker.

Improving Verbal Communication Begins with you

If you’re ready to improve your verbal communication skills through better listening here’s your challenge. Over the next five days, at home and work, take on the five methods. For example:

  • Monday – Listen actively
  • Tuesday – Don’t interrupt
  • Wednesday – Keep an open mind
  • Thursday – Limit distractions
  • Friday – Stop the head talk

Are you ready to take this on? Are you listening?