Powerful ways to improve active listening skills for work?

I'm going to talk about a common question of many of my students.

How do I improve my listening comprehension?

They tell me they find it difficult in meetings and conversations on the telephone with their clients, and need to know how they can fix this quickly. Listening in any situation is hard, even in your native language, but now you have to try and do it in your second language and at work. As an architect, landscape architect or interior designer, you already have cutting edge skills to design and build sustainable communities for OUR future. So we can't let your difficulties with listening stop you! But sometimes your skills are lost because you aren't sure if what you're doing is correct! 

While you're hard at work at your computer you might be thinking:

Did I hear him correctly? Is that what they said? I can't go back and ask them; they'll think I'm not doing my job correctly.

Sound familiar? 

I felt like this when I first arrived in France. I had no idea what people were saying, and my response was just to smile and say 'oui.' I was frustrated. I could understand words here and there, but it was difficult. I felt as though I was never going to achieve my dreams of understanding French. I knew what I had to do, but I just found it so challenging because I was frustrated and unmotivated. When I explained my frustrations, people told me to watch Netflix with the subtitles on. It just made me feel worse because I still understood nothing. I couldn't understand the essential things in a conversation. I thought I needed to do something about my listening skills.

There are many articles on the internet about how to improve your active listening at work. These articles are useful if you already have strong listening comprehension. They give you all sorts of helpful tips such as practice active listening, don't be afraid to ask questions. However, this can be extremely difficult to put into practice when you're stressed, uncertain and not feeling confident. In my opinion, there is one vital step that many of these articles don't mention: You need to train your listening comprehension skills outside of the office: away from the stress of work. 


Because your poor listening comprehension is not because you're bad at your job, or you're terrible at English - you're just missing vital practice. You're missing daily exposure to the language. When I say exposure, I mean, daily active listening where you try to understand what is being said. Good news is, even if you don't work in an English speaking county there is a solution. It's not hard, but it takes consistent daily practice. 

Let's use an analogy. 

Imagine, a footballer is recruited to a new team. They have excellent skills and potential, but they don't train with the rest of their team. They play their first match but realise they can't run as fast as their teammates. Their passes reach the other players, only 50% of the time, and they give up at the half time break. They think - Why can't I keep up when I have amazing skills? What's the difference between this person and their teammates - the teammates go to training three days a week to refine their skills so that come game day they are the best team they can be. They have also been doing it together for a long time. In this analogy, the teammates are your work colleagues who already speak English with high proficiency. 

Now let's go back to you. When you ask: How do I improve my listening skills at work? Then someone tells you: 'These are the things that you need to do at work to have better-listening skills' they forget the one key element: training! You need practice in listening before you even think about what things you can do to improve your listening at work. But the training doesn't need to be as dull as you think it might be. What's the secret?

The solution - Podcasts 

Podcasts! Not only are podcasts useful, but they are also the number one tool suggested by language teachers all around the world, including renowned polyglot Steve Kaufman.

They expose you - the listener - to native and non-native English: to different dialects, pronunciation and intonation. They also help you build your vocabulary, and they help you understand native speakers, even when they speak quickly.  If you want to start following your colleagues better - you need to start a consistent listening strategy every single day. 

When I started listening to podcasts daily, I noticed a HUGE improvement in my listening comprehension. It was like someone had waved a magic wand! Suddenly, I felt myself understanding much more of the conversations I was in, and I started to gain more confidence and excitement about learning French. 

Here is what I do:

Every day when I wake up, I listen to a podcast for 10 - 15 minutes on repeat at any moment I can. I always have my ear pods in my ears. Sometimes I listen to one episode twice. I rewind, fast forward, pause, and write down words I don't know. Sometimes I look at a transcript if I have missed essential words. However, I always listen to something interesting - authentic conversations, real topics I love about art, design, culture and personal development.

Why Are Listening Skills Important at work?

You know why - it makes you better at your job. Out of the four critical skills of language, it is the most used language skill. Improving your listening skills and becoming more of an active listener at work can lead to increased productivity and fewer mistakes. You'll waste less time questioning your tasks and making assumptions, and more time getting your job done and meeting your goals as they should be.

What Podcasts can I suggest? 

I have many suggestions, too many to mention in this article but here are my top 7 design-related podcasts. Take on the challenge today of listening to a podcast for 10 minutes a day.

Business of Design 

How I built this Podcast 

99% Invisible 

Scratching the Surface 

Talking practice

Face to Face - Dezeen 


ASkLA Podcast -Landscape Architects

Everything but the Building - A modern look at Landscape Architecture

This is only the beginning of your journey to improving your listening. Next time I'll talk about why 'Active Listening' is also the key to you getting the results you deserve.

Do you already listen to podcasts? What are some of your favourites? Do you want more ideas for Podcasts to listen to that fit your interests? Message me today, and I'll give you some ideas. 

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