Active Listening — what is it and how is it best used?
You may or may not have heard the term “Active Listening” before. It gets thrown around in conversations about Effective Emotional Intelligence for Business and how to properly engage with potential clients. Sometimes I think the term is over-used and misunderstood. So let’s get down to the basics here. What exactly is Active Listening?
According to Wikipedia: “Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented. This form of listening conveys a mutual understanding between speaker and listener.”
So what does that really mean? There are five key techniques to all of this:
1) Pay attention.
And not just polite attention. Actually look at the person speaking to you, watch for body language and other non-verbal cues, and listen to their words as well as their tone. Don’t think about other things, or what you might say in rebuttal. Don’t let things in the environment (other speakers, loud noises, etc) distract you.
2) Show that you’re listening.
This may mean nodding or shaking your head where appropriate, but it can also include maintaining eye contact or encouragement with vocal “mmhmm”’s or other gestures.
3) Provide feedback.
Let the speaker know you’ve actually heard what they’ve said, paraphrase and repeat back to them what you heard, and if you need to ask clarifying questions, do this here.
4) Defer Judgment.
There’s nothing worse than getting halfway to a point and being interrupted with a counterargument that could have been avoided if you’d just been able to complete your point. Allow room for the speaker to finish their thoughts before you cut in with your feedback.
5) Respond Appropriately.
Once you’ve allowed them to clarify any points you may have had questions about, then it is time to respond to what you’ve heard. Be open, honest, and candid in how you share your response. In order for there to be actual communication we must always strive to share the truth. Be respectful, this means treating others as you think they would want to be treated — or like the old adage, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.
Mastering the art of active listening can take more than just one overnight role-playing practice. It is something you’ll want to employ in all your conversations, whether with clients or family and friends. You may find that by listening this way your conversations become deeper and more meaningful to both you and the other party. When people feel heard they are more likely to come back to talk to you about other concepts and issues. Active listening allows us to experience higher quality communication, build better relationships, and can even be motivational in what we are trying to achieve in our own lives.
MindTools has a great Listening skills infographic you can check out.