What is Active Listening?
Active listening is defined as a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Through active listening you are making a conscious effort to hear not only what the other person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. Active listening helps build rapport, understanding, and trust.
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How to Actively Listen
The first step is learning to pay full attention to the person you are talking to. You can't allow yourself to become distracted by counter arguments or things going on around you. Have you ever met someone, who loves to talk, but when it's your turn to talk, they seem distracted and don't seem to be listening. We often think of these people as self-centered, untrusting and even boring. It is very hard to get into rapport with someone who is unable to listen.
Tip #1: A useful tip if you find it hard to concentrate is to mentally repeat the words you hear. This will keep you focused.
The next step is to acknowledge what others are saying. This can be done by nodding your head and other facial expressions such as raising your eyebrows or smiling. Read more about how body language can be used to acknowledge that you are listening.
Acknowledgment can also be through simple statements or questions such as "uh huh", "and then?" or "Really?".
Tip #2: Be careful not to nod too ferociously else it could be interpreted that you are in agreement with the other person, which may not necessarily be the case. Learn to avoid common body language mistakes.
Others Techniques used in Active Listening
By briefly summarizing what you have heard, you can demonstrate you have been actively listening, for example: "So, if I understand you correctly...." or "What I'm hearing is...".
Probing questions can show that you are totally interested in what you are hearing, for example "what happened next"
Giving short feedback without interrupting. "I see what you mean" or "Sounds amazing."
Ask questions to clarify certain points "What do you mean when you say" or "is this what you mean?" but don't interrupt them unnecessarily.
Interruptions can be frustrating to the speaker and could limit your understanding of their message. Allow the speaker to finish each point before you interrupt them with a detailed question or a counter argument.
Acknowledging someone's issue or problem and displaying empathy, for example "I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue. . ."
Key Take Aways
Actively listening will help you gain respect and trust from the person you are listening too. It will facilitate better and clearer understanding which in turn will result in stronger bonds and better relationships. Actively listening will help you probe and gain a deeper understanding of the issues, helping you avoid further issues, and improving your productivity.
It takes concentration and effort to learn to become an active listener. But with a bit of practice and perseverance, this will become second nature, and it will greatly improve your overall communication skills!
Also read Why Actively Listening.