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The 10 Essential Soft Skills List: 4 – Active Listening
What is active listening? The term itself makes one think there's sweatpants and a water bottle involved. Maybe even a little jogging in place while someone talks your ear off? No. Really, active listening is a soft skill and set of techniques that helps you retain more in a conversation (or meeting) and works to convey your interest, empathy, and sincerity—allowing you to form stronger interpersonal relationships.
So, if not through physical dexterity alone, what does it take to become a good active listener? Read through the following techniques to find out!
Rephrase or repeat what was said in your own words
This is a great way to demonstrate your understanding and make sure you've heard the other person correctly. You don't need to do this every time someone speaks, of course, but it's helpful every now again to ensure you're staying up to speed. If you find it difficult to articulate their words in your own, then you probably weren't listening as well as you thought, or you may need to ask some follow-up questions.
Ask follow-up questions
Follow-up questions can help you gain deeper insight and show the other person that you've heard and thought about what they said. When a person is done speaking, or ready for your input, you may draw further information by asking follow-up questions. A good way to do so is to take what was said and quickly identify any areas that may still have some ambiguity or missing context. Form questions around these areas that can get the person to expand and give you a fuller picture. For example, "I can see that you're very fond of this vendor. Can you tell me a little bit more about makes them stand out to you?"
A person says a lot without saying anything—especially when it comes to listening.
Provide verbal and nonverbal feedback.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt like they weren't fully listening? Think about what made you feel that way. A person says a lot without saying anything—especially when it comes to listening. A good listener understands this and provides verbal and nonverbal feedback as the other person speaks, assuring them they are listening.
Verbal affirmations, like a simple "Uh-huh." "I see." "Okay." "Right." "Wow!", etc., are a great and easy way to acknowledge you are listening and you are engaged. Both verbal and nonverbal feedback can achieve showing interest and empathy (or the ability to emotionally relate or understand another person). Examples of nonverbal feedback include nodding or shaking your head, smiling, raising your eyebrows, etc. By giving feedback and practicing empathy, you show the speaker you've heard them and validated their feelings to build a stronger, genuine connection.
Use distraction-free body language.
Avoid distracting behavior like fidgeting with a pencil, staring into space, or checking your phone or watch too often. This type of behavior tells the speaker they only have part of your attention and it can make them uncomfortable. Your body posture and the direction your body faces also affect the perception of how well you're listening. Don't slouch or have your body pointed away. Face towards them in an upright, engaged posture.
Focus on the hear and now (see what I did there)
While a person is talking, focus on them, and only them. Don't think about what you'll say once they're finished. By focusing solely on what's being said, you are showing respect and truly hearing the message. If you're distracted, you're not going to catch everything being said or felt. Grasp the entire message and catch any nuances that can add even more context.
Lastly, when they're finished talking, don't rush to speak. Instead, pause for a second to really process their words. There will even be times during this pause that you may find the speaker actually has more to say—maybe something they were reluctant to mention before. Use this pause to strengthen your communication.
The key with all these active listening techniques is to truly engage yourself in the conversation and be genuine, caring, and sincere. As a professional, you are expected to build professional relationships and communicate efficiently. By adopting and leveraging these techniques, you'll find your communications will become much more meaningful and effective.
Course you can take
Coursera | Active Listening–Effective Communication
Estimated time to complete: 5 minutes [SHORT VIDEO]
Udemy | Active Listening Masterclass
Estimated time to complete: 31 minutes
LinkedIn Learning | Active Listening
Estimated time to complete: 45 minutes