- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
Active listening is how you stay engaged in conversation proactively. It is the process of paying attention to what your conversation partner is saying and validating for them that you have heard what they have said. This creates a sense of value within the person you are listening to. That increases trust and rapport.
Active listening is more than just hearing what someone has said to you. Active listening is participating in the conversation. When you are listening actively you are concentrating on what is being said without judgment. You are taking in the information and processing it so that you can not only understand what is being said but so that the speaker is aware that you are listening rather than waiting to talk.
Below you will find 5 techniques to make you a better active listener. If you choose to use them, you will find that people will respect you more. Why? Because you will be showing them respect. Everyone wants to feel like they have a valid contribution and that their thoughts and opinions matter. By demonstrating that you are interested in other people’s thoughts and ideas you are letting them know they matter. And that is the ultimate leverage.
MAKE EYE CONTACT
Have you ever had a conversation with someone while they look at their phone? It is frustrating. Especially if the topic is important to you. Their body language clearly illustrates you do not have their undivided attention. Are you doing the same thing when people are talking to you?
If you are scanning the room, looking at your phone, or otherwise preoccupied you are not demonstrating active listening. The speaker likely thinks you do not care about what they are saying. That is annoying at best and outright disrespectful at worst.
You want to make eye contact and visibly signal that you have an interest in the conversation. You do not have to make it awkward but face them and look them in the eye when they are speaking. You will not only demonstrate interest, but you will increase your comprehension. Eye contact is a connection.
RELAX AND PAY ATTENTION
You can pay attention and remain relaxed. You do not have to hold eye contact the entire time you are interacting with your partner. That would be weird. Just relax demonstrate interest through consistency. Face to face communication is a powerful thing, but it is also a relaxed thing. The more relaxed you can be the more relaxed the speaker will be. They will be more open and communicative.
In other words, it is okay to look away once in a while. What you are trying to do here is be attentive. You want to mentally block any distractions like background noise. Focus on the words they are saying/ Try to keep your thoughts and feelings contained. One cool trick is to try and make mental pictures of what the other person is saying.
Another great way to pay attention is to actively repeat what the other person has said to you. This is an old negotiation technique. You simply repeat three or four of the words your partner used. By repeating those words back to them you are letting them know you are listening. You are also locking the thoughts in your mind so you can honestly remember and process what they are saying. This leads to a better understanding all around.
LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGMENT
You must be clear about what this means. It does not mean you should resist your feelings. If the other person says something that shocks you, you are going to experience the feeling of being shocked. What you want to avoid is casting judgment or jumping to conclusions about your partner.
When you cast these judgments about what you are hearing you are no longer listening. It may be that the shocking thing the speaker has said, leads somewhere unexpected. When you feel that initial shock, learn to absorb it and move on. The speaker is trying their best to convey what is on their mind. If that is difficult in this conversation, they may communicate them ineffectively. As an active listener, you are also an interpreter.
Rather than let shock become judgment and stall the conversation, you can ask clarifying questions. You might ask them to explain what the said differently. You may ask them how they feel about what they just presented to you. Asking clarifying questions will help you and the speaker as well.
DO NOT INTERRUPT
One of the biggest flaws in communication is interrupting. A lot of times people will interrupt to make a suggested solution. That is generally considered rude. It telegraphs that you are not genuinely interested in what they are saying. It also says that you believe you are more important than they are.
When you are listening to someone talk about a problem they are having, they probably do not want a solution. You may have a solution to offer them, but unless they ask you directly, it is safe to assume they just want to vent their frustrations. A good listener who understands empathy will let them vent and only offer suggestions if the speaker asks for advice.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Asking questions is a great way to listen actively. When the speaker has an extended pause, you can ask a question that helps to clarify what they are trying to communicate. This has two powerful effects. One shows them that you are paying attention, and it helps you to understand what they are saying.
However, you must ask the right questions. Sometimes we ask questions that lead the conversation away from the primary topic. If you do that you should take responsibility and redirect the conversation. It is a simple matter to simply apologize and ask them to continue with the original topic of the talk.
Pay attention to what they are saying and ask questions that move the conversation in the direction of understanding. Sometimes we will ask a question that can derail a conversation. Ask questions that will keep the topic active and the conversation on task.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell