Hello friends! Do you know someone that is a really good listener? They are getting to be a rare breed these days. I find it a bit ironic that we have so many different ways to communicate now, with social media, smartphones, email, regular phone calls, and face to face interactions, but sometimes it seems that listening is a skill that is becoming hard to find. When you DO come across a good listener it makes you want to talk to them, though! Active listening is a great way to connect with people and improve cooperation, and general happiness.
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What is Active Listening Anyway?
Good question! I’m glad that you asked! The dictionary definition from bussinessdictionary.com says “The act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another in a conversation or speech.” So what does that mean for the rest of us in plain English? First off, active listening is a SKILL. That means that it can be learned, it just takes some practice. The idea with active listening is that you focus on the speaker and your intent is to try to understand; not just to respond. The major benefit for me is that often it results in people opening up.
3 Main Parts to Active Listening: Comprehending, Retaining, and Responding
Active listening is comprised of 3 main parts. The good news is that none of them are hard to do, it just takes a bit of practice!
Understanding what is heard is a major part of active listening. This involves not only understanding the words that are being spoken but in reading the other person’s body language as well and tone of voice as well. Together these account for 93% of communication. That’s a TON! A person’s body language and tone of voice can tell you a lot about how they mean what they are saying and how they feel about it. When you practice active listening, pay close attention to not only the words but also the non-verbal communication that is taking place as well. When people understand each other better, they are more likely to cooperate.
Do you remember how you were supposed to remember things in school that the teacher talked about? You know, like retain it for the test? It is pointless to have a conversation if you forget it all the moment you walk away. Yes, I know that you can’t remember everything, but you can remember the key points and keywords. When the speaker is talking, try to put their words together in pictures in your head.
Our brains remember and think much better in pictures. When you think in pictures it adds permanence to it, very much like reading comprehension. When I read a book, the story plays out in my mind in pictures. Practice the same technique when you are talking to someone and you will find that it is much easier to remember what they said. Then, later, you can reference the conversation when you are talking to them again. Doing this can give them a positive boost because they know that not only were you listening, but you remember it too!
Of all the parts of active listening, I think this one is the hardest for most people, or at least, it is for me. This is the step that adds action to the normally passive process of listening. The best response to make someone feel understood is to paraphrase their words back to them. “So you think…?” Or “You said that……?”Doing this also adds to your retention. When people feel understood they are more likely to reciprocate and listen to you and your opinion as well. What you DON’T want to do is to “ambush” the speaker, which is listening to their argument for the weak points and ignoring the strengths. You also want to respond on-topic. If you have to ask a question for better clarification, then wait for a pause to ask.
Benefits of Active Listening
Since listening is getting to be a rare skill these days, a person that does it well is very much appreciated. That’s why it’s classified as a business skill. It will get you noticed in a good way! I have found that it is a good LIFE skill as well for everyone that you come in contact with, but especially for your spouse and your friends. Some of the benefits of active listening are:
- People open up
- Helps avoid misunderstanding
- Helps to resolve conflict
- Builds trust
- Positively changes people’s attitudes towards themselves and others
- Emotional maturity
I do have a small note on emotional maturity. Active Listening requires it because when you are practicing active listening, you HAVE to put your own emotions aside for it to work. You have to be able to listen without judgment to the other person’s opinion/argument. The goal with active listening is to understand, whereas many people only listen in order to respond.
You can read more on breakdowns from the wiki entry on active listening here.
10 Tips for Active Listening
If, like me, you are working on your active listening skills, here are some great tips. The original article can be found (here)
1. Eye Contact
When you are having a conversation with someone, make eye contact. It does not have to be a steady gaze right into the person’s eyes all the time. (That would be a bit freaky!) However, do make eye contact from time to time during the conversation in a relaxed way. That lets them know that all your attention is on them and what they are saying. It makes them feel like you are really listening and interested in what they think. It’s a really great way to let someone know that you are “present” with them. They may look away for much of the conversation, and that’s ok. Especially if what they are saying is emotional for them, it may be easier for them to not look at you. As the listener, though, make eye contact.
2. Stay relaxed, but be attentive
If you are sitting and listening and making eye contact, but you are stiff as a board, it is NOT going to put the other person at ease! Your nonverbal body language will be sending them “stop talking!” messages. In order to listen effectively, stay relaxed while still keeping your mind fully engaged in the conversation.
3. No Judgement Zone
Jumping in with a judgment right in the middle of someone talking to you is not going to help them open up. It may cause conflict or it may just shut the other person down. If you are practicing active listening try to keep an open mind while the other person is talking. Remember, you are listening to understand, not to respond.
4. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences
Sometimes I am trying SO hard to be a good listener and I want the other person to feel understood, so I get excited and jump right in and finish their sentence for them so they know that I am thinking the same thing! Until they go “Um…. No… that wasn’t what I was going to say….” Then I respond with a very “intelligent” sounding “Oh…” and I realize that once again, I have put my foot in my mouth. Oops. When practicing active listening, avoid the temptation to do either of these!
5. No Solutions from the Listener
Again, this is one that I need to work on. You see, I’m a “fixer.” I want to fix other people’s problems. If they are feeling bad, then I want them to feel better. The problem is that most people want to be understood and they can come up with their own solutions to their problems. Remember that your objective is to understand. If you have a REALLY good solution that you can’t stand to not say then you can ask something like “Would you like to know my thoughts on that?”
6. Wait for a pause to ask a clarifying question
There will be natural pauses in the conversation. If you need to ask a clarifying question, wait for one of those pauses to come up and then ask “When you said ….. a minute ago, can you tell me what you meant by that?” That tells the speaker that you respect them enough to not interrupt and it also is further proof that you are listening and paying attention!
7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding
This helps to keep the conversation on the topic. I think that women have a natural tendency to let the conversation drift from one topic to the other without ever getting things truly talked out. It also helps to keep the conversation focused on the speaker and not the listener. I think that most of us (or at least I do!) have a natural tendency to turn the conversation to ourselves. With active listening, it’s not about you; it’s about the speaker.
8. Empathize (Try to feel what the speaker is feeling)
There are some people that are naturally empathetic people. I have come to the realization that I am one such person. They naturally feel what other people are feeling. It’s not a super-power, but an ability to read body language really well. Sometimes, it’s a pain in the tail because I can’t turn it off and I don’t want to feel all the emotions of everyone around me! However, when I am trying to practice active listening, it serves me really well. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about how it would feel if you were in the same situation. When you do this while listening to someone, your face will naturally mirror those emotions. This gives the speaker further feedback that you are listening and understanding.
9. Respond regularly throughout the conversation to give the speaker feedback.
While you are listening, the speaker will look and listen to you for some sort of feedback. They need to know that you are listening and understanding and not daydreaming or thinking of something else. Luckily, most of us do this naturally. It can be phrases like “Oh, how terrible!” “That’s great!” Or even a simple “uh-huh” every now and then, “mmm,” “Oh?” or just a nod. If you are listening to someone explain a task or argument, then restate the instructions or main points at the end.
10. Pay attention to non-verbal cues and what ISN’T said.
Since, as I mentioned above, about 93% of communication is non-verbal, this is a very important part of active listening. Pay attention to the speaker’s facial expressions, their stance, body language, and the tone and cadence of their voice. This will tell you a lot about how they mean what they say and how they feel about it.
Active listening is a skill. It is a rather rare skill to be able to do it and do it well, which means that it will get you noticed in a good way! There are plenty of opportunities to practice in our normal daily interactions with people. Since it is a skill, it does get better with practice! I find it rather fun to practice, personally. I like to talk to people and make meaningful connections with them. The whole purpose of starting the blog was to help people, and to me, this is one way to do it. Active listening is basically just empathetic listening. It’s a way to better relate to people and make them feel better understood so that you can work together. More positive interactions with others make us happier overall. (For more on Happiness, check out 5 Ways to Increase Your Happiness)
Have you tried active listening? How did it work for you?
What makes you feel really understood when you are talking to someone?
Was anything in this post helpful? What did you think? Leave me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!
If you would like to read more on this, Jessica over at JessicaHugoInspire has written a great article on 5 common mistakes that people make during a conversation and how to avoid them.