5 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills
01 Nov 2023 • 4 min read • posted by Maria H
Did you know that, as human beings, we only remember between 25 and 50% of what we hear when someone speaks to us?
Put into practical terms, it means that when your boss, colleagues or friends are talking to you, you only hear half of what they say.
And this could be an issue if they’re communicating critical information like instructions for a project, ideas you need to explore or directions to a meeting point, as you could be missing key details.
That’s where active listening comes into play.
Now, you might think that you’re always listening actively to what others say. But the reality is that active listening is a skill you need to hone.
In this blog, we’ll define what active listening is. And we’ll also explain why it is so critical to develop your active listening skills to achieve your goals before sharing five tips on how to practice active listening.
What is Active Listening
Active listening requires that the listener completely focuses on the speaker during a conversation, a lecture or a meeting and be engaged the whole time. When listening actively, you’re making a conscious effort to hear every word the speaker is saying and understand the message being conveyed.
In other words, it requires the listener to fully immerse themselves into the conversation or meeting by solely focusing on what the other person is saying and preventing distracting thoughts from cluttering their brain. And this includes forming counterarguments or preparing an answer while the other person is still talking. Also, it means that you can’t be bored or allow yourself to lose your focus.
Active listening is a valuable skill as it’s difficult to develop due to the high level of prolonged concentration it requires and increases productivity. Yet, it has tremendous benefits and can significantly help you enhance your work or academic performance.
Why is Active Listening So Important
Active listening plays a critical role in effective communication and developing strong bonds with others, whether at work or in your personal life. That’s because, by proactively listening to others, fully understanding their stance and responding adequately, you’ll be able to build trust and successfully convey your ideas and opinions. By showing the speaker you care about what they say, they’ll be comfortable sharing information with you, which in turn helps enhance collaboration and create synergies. And it’s also the best way for you to uncover problems others might be facing and find solutions.
But that’s not all. Active listening is also important because it allows you to retain critical information, including instructions and expectations and broaden your knowledge around various topics. When listening actively, you focus on every word and commit the information to your memory.
And this, in turn, will help you improve your job effectiveness in general.
So, if you want to improve your communication skills, foster positive relationships with others, and reach your goals, developing strong active listening skills should be one of your top priorities.
How to Practice Active Listening
Although hearing others is easy, actively listening to them can be surprisingly difficult because it requires pure concentration. That’s why to help you develop this critical skill, we’ve shared below five tips on practicing active listening.
Pay Attention to the Speaker
One of the easiest but most important active listening exercises is to focus on what the speaker says and show them you are actively listening. And to do so, you absolutely need to avoid any distractions. During your interactions, put your phone away, prevent your thoughts from wandering, shut down your internal dialogue and ignore distractions.
To show the speaker they’ve got your full attention, use non-verbal cues such as making eye contact (60 to 70% of the time), having open body language and using facial expressions. For instance, smile if they make a joke or flash your eyebrow if they’re stating a surprising fact.
Repeat What You Hear
One of the most difficult active listening exercises is to paraphrase what the speaker says instead of offering your opinion. That’s because when someone speaks, we tend to form a judgment or opinion and share our thoughts as soon as they’re finished. But remember, developing active listening skills requires you to listen without judgment and shut down your internal dialogue.
So, paraphrase what the speaker says and summarize the message they’re conveying. This will help them feel understood and validated.
For instance, you could say something like “what I’m hearing is that you find the situation frustrating and need help developing a plan of action’’.
Use Open-Ended and Probing Questions
Yes or no questions typically only produce a yes or no answer and aren’t conducive to people opening up to you and sharing critical information. Asking open-ended questions, on the other hand, will produce more thoughtful and extensive answers, making it one of the most effective active listening techniques. Besides, it will help you clarify what is being said and ensure you’ve fully understood the message.
For instance, instead of asking “do you need my help to solve the problem?’’, ask them “what would you need to solve the problem?’’
Also, using probing questions is a great way to help you uncover the speaker’s thoughts and better understand their message. Probing question examples include “why do you think this is the case?’’.
There’s nothing more frustrating for someone talking than being interrupted, so refrain from intervening and commenting.
Besides, don’t try to fill a period of silence as the speaker might be pausing to gather their thoughts before continuing. Lastly, don’t try to top the story by saying things such as “this reminds me of’’ as it takes the focus away from the speaker and might lead them to shut down.
Remember, at its core, active listening involves listening to listen and not to respond. As an active listener, your role is to act as a sounding board.
Empathize With the Speaker
Empathizing with the speaker shows that you’re engaged and fully immersed in what they’re saying. One of the best ways to show empathy is to mirror their emotions. For instance, if their face conveys sadness, your words and expressions should reflect similar emotions. Showing empathy will help you create trust and build strong relationships.
And that’s a wrap!
As mentioned, developing your active listening skills takes practice and dedication to improve and maintain, but it will help you enhance your relationships with others and boost your employability. Implement the active listening examples we mentioned above, and you’ll be on your way to developing one of the most important soft skills to achieve your goals!