What is Active Listening?
In a word, active listening is the key to success in life. It means the difference in listening, processing, and using information to one’s advantage, and merely “hearing” what a person is saying (i.e. letting it go “in one ear and out the other”) – effectively letting important opportunities pass us by.
Indeed, active listening entails listening with the entire body – while also observing the other person’s entire body. It means being aware of the other person’s tone of voice, body language, eye signals, and verbal responses to non verbal stimuli. It also means using your own body to listen – your eyes, your facial expressions, and the way you hold your posture.
Those who practice active listening skills tend to accomplish the most in life, because they never miss an opportunity that a more passive listener might not even be aware of.
Active listening is not just about only speaking when the moment is right – it is also about not interrupting when an important story or piece of information is being conveyed by a speaker. When someone is trying to express something important to you, allow them to get to the end of a sentence before you interject. When you do interject, it should be to repeat or clarify what has just been said, and thus show the speaker that you have been listening carefully to what they were just saying.
Can one be an active listener in a stressful environment?
The answer to this question is yes. In fact, good listeners can often alleviate a lot of stress in a busy work environment. There are several reasons why. First off, an active listener rarely needs to be given instructions more than once. Poor listeners, however, will slow down the progress of a project by doing things wrong the first time around, and having to be told several times what their task is.
Active listeners realize the importance of keeping their mouths shut and focusing when the time is appropriate. Therefore, an active listener is never the source of stress. In fact, by showing all the signs of an active listener, you can help to alleviate a lot of stress that a speaker might be feeling.
Sometimes we feel stressed out at work simply because communication is not working – because the people we want to hear and understand us are not able or willing to do so. Becoming an active listener can dissipate a lot of the stress from a work environment. It will also increase your chances for promotion, because it means you are a person who others can rely on to communicate with in an effective, prompt manner.
What body language should I use when listening?
Eye contact is a key ingredient for active listening. You may feel that you are a good multi tasker – that you can do several things at once. Talk on the phone, surf the Internet, and converse with a colleague in the next cubicle – all without batting an eyelid. The truth is, however, that you are not really gaining the information that you need when you perform such tasks. The goal of communication is to gain knowledge, and you cannot focus on details unless you first focus your eyes on the source of that knowledge transmitter.
In addition to looking directly in the eyes of a person when they are speaking to you, you should also give signs that you are really hearing what they are saying. Effective signs of listening can include nods of the head and facial expressions that are appropriate to what they are saying. You should avoid making nervous or bored gestures when someone is speaking to you.
How do I ensure that I have heard what the other person is saying?
Taking notes is an appropriate, if slightly old fashioned, means of keeping everything in check. This is especially appropriate during business meetings or lectures.
Communication is a two way street, and in that respect, you will want to give your colleagues plenty of chance to speak or ask questions when they are listening to you.
You should also take note of your colleagues’ facial expressions – this is an excellent way to study how to become a better listener. Which of your colleagues looks down at the floor or avoids eye contact when someone is speaking to them? Which of your colleagues might be categorized an “active listener”?
When you are speaking with someone, you should constantly check to make sure you have clearly understood what the other person is trying to communicate. This means asking questions at the appropriate moments in a conversation. Make sure that you are not just hearing what you want to hear. This can cause all sorts of confusion later on – confusion that can readily be avoided if you are an active listener.