Active Listening Skills: The Practice of Communication
Active listening skills are vital for excelling in any field and any industry – from consulting to entrepreneurship to hospitality. They allow you to relate to and understand your clients and deliver solutions that genuinely serve them. As we engage in listening, we increase the efficacy of our communication and the strength of our relational connections with clients. In this article, we’ll cover active listening skills, examples, activities, and more.
What Are Active Listening Skills?
Listening is one of the most basic but important skills we possess as humans, not to mention professionals. We listen to gain understanding, learn, gather information, and connect to those around us. But what are active listening skills? First, let’s take a moment to define active listening. Active listening is the practice of being fully present and giving someone your full attention. It can also be referred to as “effective listening” which gives you a hint towards the benefits of active listening skills. Active listening requires the listener to absorb, understand, and retain what is being said. This results in more effective communication.
To explain what active listening skills are, it will be helpful to take a minute to discuss what they are not. Often in our conversations, we find ourselves one step ahead of the person we’re listening to instead of being fully engaged. Have you ever found yourself doing any of the following?
Daydreaming or letting your mind wander
Formulating what to say next
Judging what is being said for accuracy or truth
Listening with a specific goal in mind
You aren’t alone – we all do it. But active listening, on the other hand, is a compilation of verbal and non-verbal clues that help you stay engaged. When we are able to stay present, it allows the conversation to fully develop. There is nothing worse than when the person listening to you can’t wait for you to stop talking. Active listening avoids this and builds rapport and trust between speaker and listener.
Active Listening Skills Examples
Now that we have a general understanding of active listening, let’s take a look at 5 specific active listening skills examples:
Give the speaker an opportunity to think and breathe. Allow wait time and make sure your body language communicates that you are engaged and focused. This immediately communicates respect.
Active listening requires an open mind. Be open to new ideas, perspectives, and possibilities. Even if you have a strong opinion about what is being said, suspend judgment and allow yourself to hear without deciding what you think.
Let the speaker know you can recognize their emotions and share their experience. By periodically restating what you are hearing, you connect with the speaker and build trust.
When something is confusing or unclear, ask clarifying questions. Asking rather than telling invites a spirit of collaboration and a thoughtful response. It also places the burden of providing clarity on the speaker and helps them find the answer themselves.
Summarizing what you hear is a key to solidifying your grasp of the other person’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up, and gives the speaker the opportunity to correct any misconceptions.
Listening Skills Activities
As you begin to dive into the skills listed above, there are specific listening skills activities that will hone your communication skills. Implement these activities in your everyday conversations and watch the results multiply.
Non-Verbal Listening Skills Activities:
This one may seem counter-intuitive, but refrain from interrupting or asking questions until the speaker has fully presented what they are sharing.
Smile and Nod
Give the speaker a few simple nods to show that you understand. It doesn’t necessarily communicate that you agree, but that you are processing what is being said. Smiling occasionally does communicate agreement and will help make the speaker more comfortable.
Being still communicates focus. We can easily glance at our phone, tap a pen, or perhaps talk to another listener, but this is distracting to the speaker and can cause frustration. Place technology out of sight (if possible) and avoid anything that will distract both you and the speaker to help them continue to feel comfortable.
Maintain Eye Contact
Keep your eyes on the speaker and avoid looking at other people or objects in the room. This communicates respect and builds trust. One caution – be sure your gaze is natural and broken up with smiles and nods to keep the tone encouraging as opposed to intimidating.
Verbal Listening Skills Activities:
The human brain is not typically good at remembering detail. Identify a few key points to focus on to help your brain retain more of what is being said. In lengthier conversations, it’s a good idea to take a few brief notes to capture details.
To let the speaker know you comprehend what they have said, briefly paraphrase the key points. This is a powerful activity because it gives the opportunity for greater understanding and shows you were fully engaged with what was being said.
Ensure you are asking both probing and open-ended questions. Make sure they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions guide them into providing additional information or a potential solution if they are presenting you with a problem to be solved. Probing questions allow them to share more details and narrow down a broad subject or problem.
When applicable, share a similar experience you have had and the result. This shows the speaker that you heard and comprehended what they said and builds rapport.
Benefits of Active Listening Skills
Active listening is a skill you can transfer anywhere. The benefits of active listening skills may feel intangible, but they will make you a more effective career professional no matter where you go. Here are a few of the key benefits of active listening:
Having this skill in your pocket immediately helps others feel comfortable sharing information with you. When people know you as a good listener, it can open opportunities for collaboration and build new connections. All of these work to advance your career success.
When you can effectively withhold judgment and refrain from interrupting, people will inherently trust you more and be more likely to confide in you. Active listening gives you a head start when meeting new people and potentially developing those relationships into long-term partnerships.
Listening to others helps you quickly identify challenges and problems they are facing. The more quickly you pick up these challenges, the more quickly you can get to the step of solving them.
In general, those who are good at listening tend to excel professionally because they are open to growth and learning. When you practice active listening, you retain more information, and you can put it into practice.
As you practice the active listening skills we’ve covered above, you will develop stronger relationships that can ultimately lead to greater career success. Active listening will make you a better communicator and relator, both things that are critical in today’s workplace. The more you practice, the more natural active listening will become, and the more its benefits will touch different areas of your life and career.