Everyday Active Listening Skills
Whether in the workplace or social environments, we all want to be heard and also be understood. Active Listening is key to maintaining healthy relationships as well as succeeding in your career. Often you’ll hear or read a common phrase that says, Listening is more important than talking. Have you heard that before? When you deeply listen you’ll learn some new ideas, but if you only do the talking, you’ll miss out on those new ideas. When you actively give your attention to someone, you make them feel valued and motivated, and isn’t that what we all wish for? Active Listening Skills include being fully attentive to the speaker while providing them with positive feedback. Active listeners are the best at solving problems since they get a better understanding of the other person’s concerns and formulate the most optimal solutions. Poor listening habits can have adverse effects on your friendships, work, or love life.
If you just realized that you are a poor listener, perhaps it’s time you put in effort to improve your listening skills. It requires a lot of perseverance, determination, and most of all patience to be successful at active listening. So, if you think you may be interested in learning active listening, here are some of the “active listening skills” for you to practice, and a few thoughts on how you can benefit from learning them.
Maintain Eye Contact
Ensure to keep your eyes on the speaker. Looking at other objects or people in the room will show less concentration or disinterest. However, direct contact can be intimidating and can make the speaker feel uneasy, especially if he/she is shy. Always accompany your eye contact with occasional nods and smiles; it makes them more comfortable. Smiling encourages the speaker to continue with their message. It shows that you are happy with what they are telling you. A smile helps in diffusing the tension between you and the speaker. Nodding shows that you understand what the speaker is communicating and that you are processing their message. Nodding shows that you offer the speaker your support. However, it does not always mean that you agree with them.
Not all listeners who maintain eye contact or nod are attentive. Some may be hearing but not listening; in other words, they can fake attention. Their facial expressions can trick you into believing that you are together, but their mind is elsewhere. If you realize you have this habit, try taking notes as the other person speaks.
Asking questions shows the speaker that you are interested and that you have been listening. Questioning provides helpful insights to the discussion. Be careful how you put your questions. Different questions play different purposes in a conversation. Open-ended and probing questions guide the speaker into sharing additional details. Ask reflective questions to check your understanding and hypothetical questions to introduce new ideas and suggest new approaches. However, some questions, e.g., closed-ended and closing questions, can shut down the speaker. Avoid asking questions that require a yes/no answer; it will quickly put them off. Again, unless you have come to the end of a discussion, avoid questions that bring a conclusion. If you find it hard to formulate a question after a lesson or conversation, then there is a bigger chance that you haven’t been listening keenly.
Distractions can be physical, auditory, mental, or visual. To be an active listener, you should avoid unnecessary movements and actions that distract your listening. Avoid staring at your phone or your watch; it may communicate that you are tired or bored. Also, avoid verbal or nonverbal communications with the other listeners, it makes the speaker uncomfortable while still lowering your ability to listen effectively. Stop preparing your reply while the other person is speaking; you will not get to understand how the discussion ends. Daydreaming is another form of distraction that can hinder you from active listening. Try to ignore your internal conversation. Otherwise, you will be listening to two speakers at a go. To avoid visual distractions, try to face the speaker and always maintain eye contact.
Poor listeners view distractions as the ability to multitask. The fact that they can write a text message while the other person is addressing them makes them proud, because to them, that’s a strength. However, that’s not true; there is a high chance that this person will miss some essential information because their mind is distracted.
Try to paraphrase some of the main points shared by the speaker. It shows that you have understood and will also allow the speaker to do clarifications on areas he thinks you have not fully understood. Summarizing builds comprehension and helps reduce confusion by breaking down the content into small phrases for more concise understanding. Paraphrasing is very important, especially if you are learning something new. For you to make a good summary from a discussion, you have to listen keenly, so, if you are working on becoming an excellent active listener, practice doing a review at the end of a conversation. If you find it hard to paraphrase what the speaker just said, then you know you haven’t been attentive throughout the session.
Interrupting other people as they speak comes out as rude behavior. It is impossible to have effective communication when you all talk at the same time; no one will hear the other. Even if you have an urgent reply to make, wait until the other person is done talking to make a comment or reply. Never jump into conclusions or assume you know what the speaker is about to say. The speaker may change what they wanted to say so that they can agree with you. Always hear out the person speaking before telling them what to do. Never finish a statement for them in the name of trying to help them express themselves. Interruptions can take different forms; it could be your phone that keeps on ringing, your loud music, or watching TV while still conversing with someone. All those interruptions can lower the integrity of your listening.
Avoid Abruptly Changing The Subject
Changing a topic shows that you are less interested, and you might never get to understand what message the other person needed to pass. Always be patient in listening. Hold on until the person is done talking to introduce your new subject. Imagine a friend who desperately wants you to hear them out, they probably have something disturbing them, but when they are about to share it, you suddenly change the topic and fail to listen to them. Such a person will never find it easy to confide in you because you will have killed their trust in you.
Make the speaker understand that you recognize their feelings and emotions. Seeing you in the other person’s situation will help you concentrate on the conversation. You can also share similar experiences that compare the cases. Empathizing creates a sense of connection with the speaker, and it can help you establish mutual trust. Showing empathy also includes trying to provide a solution to the other person’s challenge as if it was yours.
Benefits of learning active listening skills include;
Active listening reduces misunderstandings. When you actively listen to what the other person has to say, you reduce the chance of misunderstanding them. Attentive listening ensures that you have accurately heard, reflected, and confirmed the information. A better understanding of each other increases loyalty and trust.
It helps to identify and solve problems. When you actively listen to others, you can detect their challenges and help them find a solution.
It defuses conflict. When you attentively listen to the other person, without interrupting them, there will be a lesser chance of conflicting. Interruptions and contradictions easily result in arguments as the speaker will feel ignored.
You can identify agreements and disagreements. Attentive listening helps both parties determine the areas they agree or disagree on. It also identifies the speaker’s flaws when the attentive listener paraphrases the information.
It increases your understanding and knowledge of various topics. Great listeners always learn something new and grow their knowledge. When you listen actively, you can retain information that you can apply in the future.
Active listening helps you build trust. When you become an active listener, people will feel comfortable confiding in you. Because they know they can speak to you freely without being judged. When people trust you, it can open new opportunities (like collaborations) in your business or career.
You don’t miss vital information. As an active listener, you can remember specific details. This is very important, especially if you will be required to pass the information to others.
To sum up, active listening is a very critical skill that various social settings highly value. Being able to solve problems, build relationships, and retain information can land you to success in any career. On the other hand, poor listening skills can lead you to ineffective communication, thus affecting your productivity as an individual, as well as the productivity of your organization. Anyone can develop active listening skills through practice and patience. So, if you are dissatisfied in your active listening skills and want to do better, practice the above techniques often, and it will get more comfortable with time.
Craig is dedicated to helping small businesses grow and their marketing success by developing a deeper connection to Curiosity, Intention and Gratitude. Curiosity is the foundation of all business endeavors, capture curiosity and you’ve captured momentum.