Active Listening Techniques: How to Build This Key Skill

Are you a good listener? We bet that many would say “yes”. Yet, do you know what it means? Effective communication is a two-way process, and active listening is its integral part. It’s not just about hearing the speaker but rather about processing the information along the way, understanding the discussion, and showing your involvement.  What is your answer now?

Active listening is a vital skill to have, but it doesn’t emerge out of a sudden. It takes time and effort to master. When developed, though, it can bring your communications to yet another level, especially when it comes to professional interactions and career development.

In this article, we will talk about active listening principles and techniques to help you become an active participant in the communication process and get the most out of your verbal interactions.

What Is Active Listening?

As the name suggests, active listening (AL) is a conversational technique with a focus on understanding and responding to the speaker. It’s based on not simply hearing the person’s speech but also perceiving their tone of voice, body language, and other non-verbal signs.

To be an active listener, you should be connected to the talk, concentrate on the message the person speaking tries to convey, and avoid the things that distract you or make you lose the conversation line. To stay connected, you can do the following:

  • Ask questions;
  • Clarify statements;
  • Reflect on information;
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the speaker’s emotions and experiences.

AL is yet another soft skill highly valued by employers, along with problem-solving skills and critical thinking. AL ensures maximum effective and resultative verbal interaction by achieving rapport, building trust, and fostering deep and strong connections.

A part of solid and trust-based personal relationships, active listening is widely implemented by psychologists, coaches, mentors, and leaders since it promotes involvement and accountability and makes people feel more confident and valued.

Active Listening Importance

When we explain something, give instructions, outline the directions, or simply tell a story, we expect listeners to get the meaning and understand what we are trying to say. In a word, we want to be heard.

However, understanding and validation shouldn’t be taken for granted. How often did you have a feeling of bad communication? With an AL skill, the chances of being understood and holding the listener’s attention are much higher, and the risks of miscommunication, mistakes, and lost messages are much lower.

To cut a long story short, AL is important for the following reasons:

  1. Improved understanding: AL helps accurately grasp the speaker’s point of view, needs, and concerns. Gaining a better understanding of their message, you’ll avoid miscommunication, establish reliable and promising contacts, and build positive relationships;
  2. Building trust: When listening actively, you demonstrate your interest, involvement, and respect. You let the speaker know that you do care about their thoughts and emotions and strive to understand every word as intended. Such an attitude promotes trust and wins over the speaker’s favor and loyalty;
  3. Problem-solving: AL helps hear what otherwise might be missed. When you listen with attention and eagerness, you can get to the root of a problem much easier. You analyze information along the way and can find effective solutions in seemingly deadlock situations;
  4. Settling conflicts: In a conflict or dispute, AL will come to help release the tension and re-direct the discussion toward finding a way out or solution that will reconcile the parties;
  5. Learning: When being open during a conversation, you’ll absorb new information and broaden your knowledge. People readily share their experiences, thoughts, and opinions when they feel valued and appreciated. While learning new things, you’ll be able to get insights and ideas that you might not have encountered otherwise.

How to Become an Active Listener?

The word “active’ is just what it means. You should not be a passive listener but rather participate in a conversation and take some actions while listening. Below, we’ll review techniques that will help you improve your listening behaviors and hone your communicative skills to perfection.

1. Plug-In

Active listening (AL) starts by linking to the conversation. Get ready to listen, turn on your senses, and be receptive to concentrate on the speaker and what is being said. To dispose yourself to the talk and information perception, do the following:

  • Shift your focus to the partner;
  • Clear your thoughts;
  • Avoid daydreaming;
  • Turn off your mobile phone if necessary;
  • Try to neutralize any other distractions that might hinder the talk.

By getting in the right mindset to communicate, you’ll be on the same page with the speaker and get their intentions from the start.

2. Pay Attention

A speaker should be the focus of your attention. No other conversations or any random talks should break the connection you’ve settled. Maintain eye contact to show that you listen with an open mind. Smile and nod your head when appropriate to demonstrate your affirmation and let the orator know that their message is received and understood.

Likewise, pay attention to the speaker’s body language. Posture, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, speech rate, and overall behavior are indicative of the speaker’s mood, state, well-being, and intentions. This will help you support the talker in the right manner.

3. Provide Feedback

Using non-verbal signs and body language to show your engagement and attention is not always enough to stay tuned and connected to the talk. Use verbal signs as well to respond to the speech and encourage the speaker. “Yes,” “hmm,” “I understand,” and “I see” are natural phrases that normally maintain non-verbal cues.

Besides, feel free to:

  • Ask questions that imply descriptive responses rather than “yes” or “no” answers. This will show your active interest, eliminate confusion, keep the talk flowing, and induce the speaker to share their opinions and get deeper into the discussion;
  • Paraphrase information to clarify what has been said and make sure you’ve captured the speaker’s messages, ideas, and feelings right. It will help minimize misunderstanding and give the speaker a chance to add or correct info to keep you on track;
  • Summarize the key points and share your reflections, conclusions, and feelings. Not only will this ensure you’ve understood what has been said but also it will make the further discussion deeper and more meaningful.

4. Be Patient and Neutral

Patience also needs to be trained since sometimes, it’s hard to refrain from interrupting and tossing in your two cents. Yet, being patient is just about keeping your thoughts to yourself and letting the speaker finish the sentences even when it seems they don’t know what to say.

Refrain from responding when the orator is still talking. Don’t try to change the subject and take advantage of the conversation when the speaker seems awkward or slightly stuck up.

Don’t be judgemental, criticizing, blaming, or patronizing. An open, neutral, and empathetic listener makes a speaker feel much more comfortable about uttering their opinions and outlining their positions.

In Brief

Active listening is a skill that will never go amiss and will prove useful for both professional and personal relationships. To become an active listener, you should want it first of all. Then, be ready to get some practice to make it a habit. In the end, though, it will greatly improve your communicative skills and make personal, work, and social interactions easier, smoother, and more effective.