I’m a big believer in the power of active listening. It can impact every aspect of your life, both professionally and personally. As a trainer, I’m constantly working on this skill. It’s become even more magnified as I continue to deliver more sessions in the virtual classroom. Yes, it’s one of the criteria that I’m measured against, but it goes way beyond that.
So, what is active listening? It’s defined as a communication technique that requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. This is vastly different from just passively hearing the speaker’s message. Unfortunately, we are rarely trained to listen actively. The good news is that it is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice.
Let’s first talk about the benefits:
When both parties are engaged in active listening, we all feel heard and understood. Both are key in effective communication.
Builds Mutual Trust and Shows Respect
When someone sees you are actively listening, they immediately think you care about what they are saying. They feel they can trust you which builds rapport and openness in our training sessions. Bryant H. McGill, a well-known human performance author, is quoted saying, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
Concentrating on what is truly being said allows us to fully understand the other person’s point of view. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye, active listening allows you to appreciate the perspectives of others while also avoiding misconceptions.
Boosts Self Confidence
People who are good at active listening tend to have higher self-esteem and a higher self-image. This is because they are skilled at establishing and building strong, positive relationships.
Here are seven active listening strategies you can implement to improve your communication skills:
- Pay attention, listen with intent, and don’t get distracted. Stay quiet and encourage the person to talk. Use non-verbal cues such as nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. These cues will let the person know you are listening. Make a conscious effort to stay focused on the speaker. Don’t allow noises, other participants, or your own thoughts to distract you.
- Use encouragers. Encouragers are the sounds you make, the key words you state, and the body movements you use when the other person is speaking. Use sounds such as, “Uh-huh,” or “yes.” Choose a key word from the speaker’s statement and repeat it. Using encouragers lets the speaker know you are paying attention and will encourage the speaker to keep talking.
- Avoid sending non-verbal cues that communicate inattentiveness, disinterest, or lack of understanding. In other words, keep your feelings and attitudes in check. Show understanding and acceptance with your tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture, and eye contact. Fidgeting and closed body language will give the impression you are not truly engaged.
- Listen before you plan your response. As Stephen R. Covey stated, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Fully listening before planning your response may be the most critical step towards your success as an active listener. Stay focused on understanding and remembering what the speaker is communicating.
- Ask questions to clarify and convey interest. When you do reply, reflect on what you heard and ask for clarification by using open-ended, probing, or other relevant questions. For example, ask, “Can you tell me more about what you mean by…?” or “Can you explain why that’s important?” Be empathetic to the speaker and avoid bringing up similar feelings or experiences of your own.
- Don’t interrupt the speaker. Give the speaker time to communicate his or her ideas and thoughts. Don’t interrupt or try to finish the speaker’s sentences.
- Paraphrase what was said. State the essence of what you heard to the speaker in your own words. Use an opening phrase that shows you are paying attention. For example, “It looks like you are saying…” or “Let me see if I understand…” Include a confirming statement at the end of your paraphrase such as, “Am I on the right track?” or “Is that correct?”
Strong active listening skills will help you, both in and out of the classroom. Do yourself a favor and practice using these tips. Make a conscious effort to listen, understand the complete message of each person, and make a relevant response.
Active listening has really paid off for me as a trainer and I hope these tips will elevate your success as well! What other tips or techniques do you have in your trainer toolbox to improve your active listening skills?
This article was first published November 6, 2017.