Are you a good listener, and do you have active listening skills? If you’re like most, there’s a good chance there might be some room for improvement. It turns out that the average person listens at only 25% efficiency . That’s a lot of missed connections and potential solutions going to waste. But active listening is an effective solution that can help bridge the gap and create understanding, connection, and compassion. In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of active listening and look at some easy ways to begin practicing it.
After applying some of these techniques, you might find that you have an easier time connecting and communicating with people easily and enjoyably. So, keep reading if you would like to improve your active listening skills.
What Is Active Listening?
Active listening is the ability to focus your attention on the speaker, absorb and process what they’re saying, and respond thoughtfully. But more than just memorizing what the other person is saying, it’s also taking in all verbal and nonverbal cues to fully comprehend the message. When you completely immerse yourself in what the other person is saying, you open the door for mutual respect and understanding.
Active listening is much different than passive listening where you hear the speaker but fail to retain their message The difference between active listening and passive listening comes down to absorption and retention.
With active listening, you absorb all the information that your speaking partner provides by putting yourself in their position which builds a space for mutual understanding and compassion. With passive listening, you are not wholly engaged in conversation which can potentially lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
How To Listen Actively – 6 Practical Tips
There are many ways to practice active listening. When you can truly understand a speaker’s perspective and communicate your understanding of it back to them, it opens up a space that allows for a deeper connection.
Listening more than you talk, being aware of your own biases, and managing your own emotions are all important skills for an active listener. Getting impatient, jumping to conclusions, or cutting the speaker off to inject your opinion is not encouraged, as it leads to a breakdown of respect and therefore communication.
The following are some ways you can practice active listening. Try out one or two of these tips on the next person you converse with. Notice if your speaking partner begins to respond in kind and see if that changes your dynamic.
#1 – Show That You’re Paying Attention
Devote your entire attention to your speaking partner in order to set the tone for the conversation ahead. This means paying attention to what they’re saying – not to your thoughts or a point you want to remember to make. Unfortunately, this is how we engage in conversation most of the time. We don’t actually listen. We just wait for the other person to stop talking so we can make our point, or worse, correct them if we think they are wrong.
Don’t fall into this trap. Be an active listener and show your speaking partner that you are taking your conversation seriously by putting your phone away, turning the TV off, and closing your laptop. Shut the door or move the conversation to a location where you will not be interrupted. Maintaining eye contact and nodding your head to show that you understand are also helpful ways to demonstrate that you are fully engaged in the conversion.
#2 – Listen With Empathy
Active listening is all about creating a space with your speaking partner where you can both feel open and safe. To do this, you first have to practice acceptance and empathy.
This may be difficult depending on who you’re speaking with. If it’s someone with very strong opinions that are completely different from yours, it can feel hard not to jump to arguing your point of view. But this is not a debate, but rather an exercise in human connection. Again, the goal is to understand, not to prove you are right.
Practicing acceptance doesn’t mean that you accept that person’s opinion. It means that you accept that they have a right to their own point of view.
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#3 – Avoid Interruption And Judgment
Often in conversations, we hear opinions and perspectives that differ so much from our own that they cause us to judge what is being said and who is saying it. But active listening requires mindfulness. It’s just as much about your self-control as it is your communication skills. If your speaking partner says something that causes you to become judgmental, do your best to silently acknowledge the feeling and release it.
If you jump to defending your point of view, you are doing nothing but denying that person’s reality. When you deny someone’s reality and then try and reframe it into one that you see fit, you effectively tell them that they don’t matter. More often than not, that results in conflict. Why? Because it’s dehumanizing to tell someone that their reality doesn’t matter as much as yours does.
Your respectful presence is what matters here, not your insight or unsolicited advice. Successful active listeners are people who can receive what’s being said without judging or responding with their own opinions.
#4 -Paraphrase What Is Said
Paraphrasing is using your own words to reflect back to the speaker your understanding of what they just said. Summarizing what you just heard not only sends a message to the speaker that you are listening, but also helps you to understand and retain the information as well.
You can paraphrase by saying something like, “Sounds like you are saying…”, or “If I’m hearing you correctly…”.
When the speaker sees that you are trying to understand their perspective, it allows them to further open up and keep speaking, or clarify the things you may have misunderstood.
#5 – Ask For Clarifications
Asking questions that pertain to what the speaker is talking about is a great way to not only clarify a point and deepen your understanding, but it also shows your speaking partner that they are being heard and what they have to say is valuable. Clarifying questions that are posed respectfully deepens the connection between you and your speaking partner and acts as a vehicle for understanding and compassion.
#6 – Provide Feedback (If Asked)
Feedback can be an important tool in active listening if used correctly. When feedback is welcomed by the speaker, it can create an opportunity for growth. But before providing any opinions, make sure that the speaker is first willing to hear them. Providing unsolicited advice can easily undo all the great communication you just created through your active listening.
If feedback is welcome, consider using the “sandwich approach” which involves sandwiching constructive criticism in between two compliments. By starting and ending with something positive, it helps to ease the sting of any critical remarks. It also helps your speaker lower any defenses so they are more likely to be receptive to your opinions.
The Bottom Line
Active listening is all about taking someone’s truth and moving it forward. It’s not about debating or denying. There are billions of people in this world with billions of different perspectives. What is true for you may not be true for someone else.
Other people’s reality is based on their beliefs and lived experiences and may be completely different from yours. But the point of active listening is not to prove who is right and who is wrong. The point is to seek to understand before being understood so that you may forge a connection that is based on respect and understanding – even if the other person’s reality is completely different from what you believe to be true.
When we are able to engage in active listening, we show acceptance for other people and wherever they are at that moment. When people feel understood and accepted, they in turn are more willing to understand and accept.
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