So you realize you have a problem--that your listening skills are not stellar. ("Sorry, I didn't catch what you said.")

But you may wonder how to improve. Short answer: the same way you get better at anything. First, acknowledge the problem. And then use these techniques to train yourself to become a better listener:

Exercise #1: Get up and go

If you're like most people, your office space is a breeding ground for distractions.

Email, ringing phones, smartphones and paperwork are like Kryptonite that can drain your power to listen.

The next time you need to have an important conversation with a colleague, leave your office and meet in a location that's free from distractions. Find a place that enables you to focus all of your energy and attention on the speaker. Try a local park, a quiet mall at non-peak hours or a restaurant.  


Exercise #2: Explore the "SOLER" system

It may seem corny, but you can use the  SOLER system to make immediate improvements:

  • Sit squarely. Move your body so you face the speaker head-on. Don't sit sideways or with your back to the speaker.
  • Open posture. Whether you're sitting or standing, keep your hands open and your arms at your sides. Avoid clenching your body or crossing your arms and legs when listening. This form of body language signals that you're defensive, frustrated or impatient. 
  • Lean toward the speaker. This posture demonstrates you are interested in what the speaker is saying. Don't slouch in your chair or stand slumped over. Be attentive!
  • (Make) Eye contact. Maintain comfortable eye contact. A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact for about five to 10 seconds, gaze away and look back again.
  • Relax. Loosen up! The more relaxed you appear, the more comfortable the speaker will feel.


Exercise #3: Wait your turn       

If you're the type of person who has the tendency to interrupt the speaker before he or she finishes, you're not alone. One way to improve is by counting to three after the speaker finishes talking before you respond. The more you practice this exercise, the easier it'll be to wait your turn to speak.


Exercise #4: Demonstrate understanding and appreciation

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to talk with someone when all he or she does is give you blank stares in return. One of the keys of effective listening is acknowledging what the speaker says. Here are a few ways you can demonstrate understanding and appreciation for the speaker:

  • When listening, use positive phrases such as, "That's an interesting thought," or, "Thanks for bringing up that point."
  • Put yourself in the speaker's shoes and convey that you understand his or her feelings or ideas after he or she finishes speaking. Saying things like "that must make you feel like..." or sharing similar experiences you've had will make your colleague feel like you understand his or her situation.
  • Paraphrase the speaker's statement by saying, "so what I hear you saying is..." 

Exercise #5: Ask questions

One of the best ways to improve your listening skills is by asking more questions. Your question can be as simple as "How are things going?" or "How's your job been lately?" In addition, ask your colleagues to speak up when they have issues or concerns and tell them that you'll always be available to listen to them and provide support.