What is active listening?
We have conversations throughout the day, but sometimes we’re not listening as well as we could. There are times when we’re distracted by our phone, or the person may be telling us something we don’t want to hear. This can result in miscommunication and the other person thinking that we are ignoring their feelings and opinions.
Active listening is a communication technique that involves focusing on, understanding, and responding to the speaker. By showing that you are actively listening, you are making a conscious effort to understand what the other person is saying.
Active listening can help to build trust, improve relationships, and resolve conflicts. It can also be used to gather information, clarify understanding, and make decisions.
Tips for active listening – how to improve your listening skills
To actively listen, you need to pay attention to the speaker’s words, tone, and nonverbal cues and respond in a way that shows you understand and are engaged in the conversation.
Here are a few tips to help you practise active listening:
Active Listening Do’s
- Try to relax and set a comfortable tone.
- Look at the person and give them your full attention.
- Listen for both the content and the emotion behind the words.
- Show the person you are listening by nodding and giving positive prompts such as “I understand” and “I see.”
- If the person says something you don’t understand or is unclear, ask for clarification to make sure you truly understand what they’ve said. For example, “What do you mean when you say…” or “Can I clarify that…” The questions should be related to what you’ve heard.
- Ask open-ended questions that begin with who, what, where or when. These will open up the conversation and encourage the person to express themselves so you can understand more clearly.
- If your mind wanders, admit it and apologise.
- Try to summarise what they are saying and how they feel. For example, “It sounds like you’re saying…” or “The thing you feel most important is…”
- Observe the person’s non-verbal communication to get a better understanding of what they are saying – facial expressions, tone of voice, arm movements etc.
Active Listening Don’ts
- Don’t multitask or get distracted by things happening around you.
- Don’t look at your phone or device while having a conversation.
- Don’t criticise the person or start a debate, as this will likely lead to an argument.
- Don’t cut the person off before they have finished speaking (even if you are keen to show someone you agree with them).
- Don’t jump to conclusions or assume you know what the person is going to say.
- Don’t react emotionally to what the person is saying without taking the time to fully understand their perspective.
- Don’t try to correct the person or defend yourself.
- Try not to leap to a solution. The person may just want you to listen rather than offer a suggestion.
- Don’t fold your arms or look at the person ‘blankly’ as this could signal disinterest.
Active listening examples
Here are some scenarios and examples of active listening:
- A supervisor is having a meeting with an employee who is expressing frustration with their workload. The supervisor actively listens by making eye contact, nodding, and asking clarifying questions to understand the employee’s concerns. They also paraphrase the employee’s words to show they understand and validate their feelings. The supervisor then works with the employee to come up with a plan to reduce their workload and improve their work-life balance.
- A couple is discussing a disagreement they had earlier in the day. One partner actively listens by focusing on what the other partner is saying without interrupting or getting defensive. They also reflect on what they heard and try to understand their partner’s perspective. They then express their own feelings and come to a compromise that they both feel satisfied with.
- A customer service representative is taking a call from an angry customer. The representative actively listens by acknowledging the customer’s frustration and empathising with their situation. They ask clarifying questions to understand the issue and take responsibility for resolving it. They also keep the customer informed of the status of their request and follow up to ensure their satisfaction.
Active listening will signal to the person you are listening and are interested in what they are saying. By improving your listening skills, you can build stronger relationships with the people around you.
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