Can you hear me?
Are you listening?
I hear ya!
How often do you find yourself walking away from a conversation and unable to remember what was said? Do you take an active part in listening to what the other person is saying, or are you formulating your response while the other person is still talking? Do you let the other person finish or interrupt midway? Let’s face it, many of us are guilty of passive listening – hearing but not truly listening.
Flip to the other side – how frustrating is it when you are giving instructions, telling a story, or just catching up, knowing you don’t have the full attention of the other person. With the distractions of daily life, deadlines and work environments, active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced on a regular basis.
Why is it important to dig deeper and improve your active listening skills? When you engage with the person speaking, you have the opportunity to build rapport, understanding and trust. Active listening can improve learning and help develop deeper relationships.
What are some barriers to active listening? The most common distractions of daily life such as ringing phones, emails and noisy colleagues will always be there, not to mention your own thoughts. Self-interest can be a big barrier – interrupting with your own opinions or questions, formulating responses instead of listening, not being fully present, and letting your mind wander are a few barriers that prevent active listening.
So how can be an active listener, one who is engaged and an active participant in the conversation? You might be surprised how your level of understanding and memory improves with just a few simple tips.
Give Your Full Attention
Be present in mind and body. Be generous and give your undivided attention to the speaker. Body language is just as important – turning or looking away, fidgeting or a closed posture can be seen as signs of disinterest. Lean in and participate.
Restate & Summarize
Paraphrase what you heard in your own words to ensure you understand what is being said. Bring together the pieces of conversation to check your understanding. Truly understanding what the other person is saying is critical to active listening. It’s human nature to lose interest or tune out details that do not make sense or lack comprehension.
Use Emotional Intelligence
You may not agree with what the other person is saying or perhaps, know that what they are saying is incorrect. Listen without judging, interrupting or jumping to conclusions. It does not mean you are taking what the other person is saying as gospel, just that you are letting them speak their truth and tell their story. Interrupting, finishing sentences or jumping to conclusions removes you from active listener status.
Empathize with the speaker – the setting and details do not have to match to find similarities in experiences or feelings. Acknowledge their issues and emotions – this simple validation can help diffuse tense discussions. Leave room for silence – give the person room to think as well as talk.
Whether you agree or disagree with what you have heard, how you respond is important. Be candid, honest and assertive in your response. Launching into attack mode is akin to throwing gasoline on a fire and watching the resulting explosion.
The speaker’s desire may not be for a solution. Sometimes just knowing that you are listening and have heard them speaks volumes.
At the end of the day, we all have something to say… stories to tell. We all want to be heard. The benefits of active listening reach far beyond the surface and can greatly enrich your life. So listen up, you never know what you will learn from this simple and engaged act.