What is Active Listening?
Every expert communicator already knows the importance of active listening. Active listening includes the ability to perform such skills as paraphrasing, mirroring, and clarifying. If you are already good at active listening, then you realize that it is good to vary these skills when you are in the process of conversing with someone.
But chances are you feel insecure with your listening abilities – otherwise you would not be reading this article! Let us go over some of the things you need to know in order to make the transition from being a poor listener to a master listener.
You should have a firm grasp of everything that active listening entails. Active listening begins with concentration. If you are unable to focus on a speaker with your eyes and really pay attention to the words he is saying – as well as taking note of their inflection and their body language – then you are not actively listening to them.
A second strategy that every active listener engages is acknowledgement. Using your body to pay heed to the words the speaker is saying – nodding your head when the moment is right or saying affirming phrases like “uh huh” – these are all excellent methods for ensuring both the speaker and yourself that you are actively listening to what is being said.
When is it my turn to Speak?
You should never interrupt someone when they are speaking. You probably learned this from an early age. But maybe you were never taught the reasons why. You were probably just told that it is rude to interrupt someone when they are talking.
But it also blocks effective listening. We usually interrupt for one of two reasons – we may think that we already know what the other person is going to say and that we could put it better in our own words; or we wish to respond to something that they have just said before they go on to the next thought.
In the former instance, we are often mistaken, whether we realize it or not – which merely results in the other person feeling compelled to then interrupt our interruption in order to clarify what they should have been able to say in their own words anyway. This can often lead to conflict or mutual bad feelings towards one another.
In the second case, it is much better to allow the person to complete their thought before injecting our own ideas.
Otherwise, the person will feel frustrated that they have not been given a chance to fully express their ideas, and will resent you for “intruding.”
When it is your turn to speak, use that as a moment to ask the speaker questions in order to clarify what he has just said before injecting your own ideas in to the scenario. This is something that a master listener should already know.
How can I empathize with the other person?
Master listeners already know that empathy is key for any productive exchange of ideas. Not only should listening enable you to acquire a great deal of intellectual content, you should also be able to gouge what the person’s feelings are as well.
The emotional data of a conversation is acquired not only through the content of what the person is saying, but in the body language they use to convey it. In your response, you should be careful to validate both the ideas they have expressed and their feelings – even when you do not necessarily agree with either.
Some people have a problem where they just grow cold when someone else is discussing their emotions. They thus “tune out” and stop listening to what the person is trying to say.
But the emotional content of a conversation is ultimately just as important as the intellectual content – or more so. This is why learning how to empathize with others is key in becoming a master listener. Empathy is quite easy when you think about it – it is just trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, imagining how you would feel if you were in their position.
What if someone is not listening to me?
If you feel that you are not being properly listened to, you can start over, use a different tactic, or suggest you talk at another time.
This latter is a strategy that even some master listeners do not take in to consideration. But it has proven to be highly effective in a number of situations. By suggesting a later time or date to meet and discuss something, then you know that both partners will be fully involved in the conversation – because the explicit purpose of the meeting is to discuss a particular matter. That way, everyone knows in advanced that they have to be focused – with their listening skills in sync.