How to Become an Active Listener
In our modern digital age, people are distracted and blinded by all the noise. We are constantly looking at our smart phones to check social media. People are racing through their news feed to consume content. We are losing face to face human interaction. People can’t help but be glued to their phones. Meaningful human connection is few and far between. Social skills are being lost. Due to this lack of human communication, we're losing the ability to effectively listen to one another.
Active listening is an important communication skill. To name a few reasons why, it allows us to develop relationships, make career advancements, be an effective leader, earn trust, diffuse conflict, and develop deeper thoughts. As humans, we use active listening skills in conversation to pay attention and understand what is being said. It allows us to create more meaningful conversation. Thus, leading to a deeper level of human connection with others.
You would think that as humans, we are naturally gifted in the ability to listen to one another. Surprisingly, studies show that the average human only retains 25-50 percent of what we hear. At this percentage, it could be very likely that you are missing out on important information without even realizing it.
Active listening is a skill that we can all get a little bit better at with some practice. Today, we're going to show you how you can improve your active listening skills.
Before we begin, it's important to note that good communication skills require self-awareness. By understanding your own personal style of communicating with others, you will be more effective in leaving an authentic impression.
The key to active listening is not just listening to the specific words being said, but, instead, listening to the whole message that the person is trying to communicate. By focusing on the word choice being used, it may distract us from what the person means. Other distractions that can occur in conversation could be from the outside environment, inner thoughts, lack of focus, or feelings of boredom.
Techniques to Be an Effective Active Listener
In theory, it may sound easy to be an active listener. However, the real challenge comes when you're practicing it. Be sure to use these techniques, the next time you're in conversation to be an effective active listener.
- Remove yourself from outside distractions
- Clear your mind from inner dialogue/thoughts
- Refrain from mentally preparing what you need to say
- Have the interest to want to understand
- Have curiosity about other people’s thoughts
- Find importance in what people have to say
- Position your body to face the speaker
- Use eye contact
- Open body language (uncrossed arms)
- Nod occasionally
- Smile and use positive facial expressions
- Mirror back facial expressions or body positioning of the speaker
Verbal Communication Skills
- Ask open-ended questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how…?)
- Occasionally use short phrases to reassure the speaker that you are listening (things like “mhm”, “yup”, or “okay”)
- Reflect what was said by paraphrasing your responses with “It sounds like…” or “It seems like…”
- Summarize periodically to clarify what the speaker said.
- Ask questions like “What do you mean when you say…?” to clarify what was said.
- Remember key points or ideas to expand upon later
- Give the speaker your full attention and try not to talk over them
- Be aware of your own body language
- Be aware of when to be the speaker or active listener
- Refrain from expressing your own opinion until the speaker feels fully understood
- Don’t try to prove a point
- Pay attention to negative changes in the nonverbal expression of the speaker
- Allow the other person to finish their thoughts fully
- Focus more on understanding the complete thought and not the specific words used.
The goal of active listening is the understand the meaning behind what the person is saying. Through effective active listening, you can unlock the truth of what someone has in their mind and help them feel understood. Someone can feel acknowledged, simply, by you taking the time to sit down to hear what they have to say. You can help someone feel understood by using the techniques above. By using these techniques, you can create deeper conversations which can, in turn, lead to more meaningful human connection.
It may seem straight-forward to be an active listener, but to be effective you must take an active effort to practice these techniques in conversation. As a suggestion, try meeting up with a friend or family member to practice these skills. You might realize that it takes more concentration and determination than you thought. You might even have habits that you weren’t aware of that you’ll need to break to be more effective. By being more conscious in your daily conversation, you can develop your skillset of being an effective active listener.
As a rule of thumb, try to shoot for 10% of the time making reflections or asking questions, while the other 90% will be for the speaker to talk.
And if you’re ever in a conversation and you start over thinking how to be an effective active listener... when in doubt, don’t talk out.