Listening is a skill that you could practice your entire life and still need improvement, just like the game of golf. Often we hear what people are saying, but do not listen actively enough to be able to hear the intended message, or recall what was said. One reason most of us have poor listening skills is that we think faster than people speak, allowing our minds to wander. Although we have the capacity to understand someone speaking about 500 words per minute, most people speak between 125 to 150 words per minute. As a New Englander living in the south, I’m often aware of how slowly many southerners speak compared to the north and wonder if retention is better!

Another reason many of us are poor listeners is that our minds are busy formulating our response rather than giving the speaker our undivided attention. We clamor over one another to be heard, often formulating our responses well before the speaker has finished their statement.
Active listening also requires we put our judgments, prejudices canned response aside so we can give the listener our full attention and listen empathetically. It is very difficult but worth the practice. Being a better listener can help you be more effective as a salesperson and virtually any other role you fill. You also will be able to better able to build and maintain relationships and improve your abilities to influence and even negotiate.
The act of listening can be enhanced by a number of techniques, and here are 5 tips for active listening:
• Stop multitasking. When you decide to listen actively, decide to give the speaker your full attention. Set aside any distractions including phones, computers and television to allow yourself to fully concentrate on the speaker.

• Stay neutral: While listening, try and stay free of all judgment and remain neutral while the speaker is talking. This includes your facial expressions and body language.

• Stay with the speaker: Show you are listening by nodding your head or injecting short comments (“Ok”, “ yes”,) and with your eye contact and body language. Try not to interrupt unless you need clarification or for them to repeat something.

• The 5 second pause: Ours is a culture of noise, and silence even for a few moments can produce anxiety and uncomfortable feelings for many. However, if you make a conscious decision to gather your thoughts before you speak, you allow yourself to give your undivided attention to speakers, ponder what they have said, and consider a thoughtful response.

• Reiterate: During sales and especially in negotiation it is helpful to repeat what the speaker said, perhaps in your own language. For example “So what you’re saying is in-house training is your top priority for the first quarter. Is that correct?” Your speaker can then clarify anything you may not have heard.

These active listening tips help foster a positive exchange, build trust, and we encourage you to try this technique in various situations both at work or home and see if you find positive results.