How to master the art of active listening

Plenty of people consider themselves to be good listeners – until they find out what active listening is.
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It’s about more than just hearing – it’s going deep into conversations to understand, process and reflect on what’s being said without judgement, using non-verbal prompts to get the complete message.

Along with the benefits to your personal relationships, it can make a big difference to your work, too – especially if you’re leading a team. It brings forward varied viewpoints, reduces errors and misunderstandings and can improve employee motivation. A recent study showed 63% of employees feel their voice is ignored in some way. So let’s sharpen those listening skills.

Pay attention

Be present and give the speaker all your attention. Don’t start thinking about what you’re going to say next and avoid external distractions – if this is via video, close or hide all other tabs and mute notifications. Meeting IRL? Lean towards the person, put your phone away and screen out surrounding sounds.

Focus on non-verbal cues

Is the speaker smiling? What’s their posture like? Their tone of voice? Little things like this have a big impact – observing them will allow you to take more from the chat. Similarly, your own actions (making eye contact, nodding to show you understand, facial expressions...) can put the speaker at ease and build a genuine relationship.

Avoid interrupting

If active listening has one enemy, it’s interruptions. They signal that you aren’t truly interested in what the other person is saying and that what you’ve got to say is more important. It also breaks the speaker’s chain of thought and doesn’t allow you to fully grasp the information shared. So, slow down, listen without judgement and allow them to finish speaking – even if you’ve got something pressing to say. 

Ask questions

It’s perfectly OK to ask questions – it shows interest, helps you understand and continues the conversation. Plus, if you find the discussion steering off topic, asking the right questions can help bring it back on track. Remember: don’t cut in. Wait until there’s a pause in the conversation before diving in with your Q.

Summarize

Paraphrasing or summarizing key parts of the conversation not only indicates you’ve been actively listening, but allows you and the speaker to reflect on what’s been said and whether it’s been correctly understood. You’re both able to highlight what’s important and outline clear steps for what’s next. Try to pepper this throughout the conversation (without interrupting).

This article was first published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.

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