Active listening is part of the many soft skills which are very important for personal development. Soft skills are the skill that characterize how someone interacts with others. In this article you’re going to learn 10 ways to improve your active listening skills.
Active listening is a higher level of communication that will improve the mutual understanding. In casual conversation there are lots of distractions, therefore the listener never puts all his attention on the speaker. When listening to others we often think about what to reply instead of listening. One more very common problem is jumping in and interrupting the speaker, this makes the listening ineffective.
Active listening is listening with all the attentions you have and showing that you listen. It’s very important to show that you listen because otherwise your partner won’t be aware that you are listening carefully. Improved listening skills will minimize conflicts and misunderstandings. In the image bellow you can see an overview of the different types of listeners and what does active listening style mean.
Just listening carefully is not very hard, you only need to have the will for it. The area where everyone can improve is showing that you are listening, recognizing emotions and asking the right questions. Here are the 10 Ways to improve your active listening skills for effective listening, divided in two categories, physical and verbal.
Physical signs of listening
Physical signs are the easier to learn, but can greatly help you. Here are some of the most important:
Smiling and nodding
Smile can be used to show that you are paying attention while listening or that you are feeling happy for the things you are hearing. Combining the smile with nodding will provide sign of affirmation and more trust. Smiling and nodding make the speaker feel more relaxed and comfortable talking, which is crucial for good conversation.
In the era of mobile phones, it’s really easy to forget to keep your eyes on the person you are talking to. Even slight look away from the person that’s speaking could make them question if you are listening or not and make you a bad listener. It can also make them feel they are boring and that they shouldn’t have talked to you. However, don’t do it aggressively and try to combine it with smile and nodding, otherwise you’ll end up staring and looking creepy.
The posture of your body means a lot in communication. Usually the active listener tends to bend the body a bit forward to the speaker or outside if sitting. When listening carefully people also tend to rest their head on a hand or bend it.
Crossing your arm or having arms in pocket may show that you are not very open to communication. For a more open communication, it’s best to not have any object, suck as table, chairs etc., between you and the person you talk with.
Mirroring other person’s body language is a quick way to increase trust and make a stronger bond. Sometimes we use it instinctively, for example when we yawn or smile. We have more trust for people that are similar to use, that’s way if you mirror (copy) someone body language, they’ll like you more.
You can mirror a person using body posture (sitting down/standing up), voice (slower, deeper…), smiling, etc. Just be careful and make it spontaneously.
Verbal Signs That You Listen
The verbal signs of active listening are the harder ones and require some time, practice and reading in order to learn to practice them well. Practicing this things can help you a lot in your daily life.
Verbal positive reinforcement is a great method to show that you listen. It can be done by saying words like: “yes” and “ahmm”. This can be done while the person is talking, but with caution not to interrupt them. If this words are repeated too often or too loud, it can become distracting and annoying.
Remember Important Information
When you listen to someone for a while, it’s really easy to start forgetting information you’ve already heard or forget the main points. It’s even more common to start thinking what to replay and stop listening. Actively listening includes remembering the main problems, ideas, concepts etc. of the talk. It’s really important in order to understand the person and will also help you in verbal reflection latter.
Verbal reflection means “repeating” the words/feeling of the speaker, but paraphrased. It is done after the person finishes speaking, it contains reflection of content and feeling/s. When reflecting the content we focus on the problem, ideas, solutions, objects. It allows the speaker to get a better look on their situation, makes them feel more understood and it encourages them to continue talking. During reflection, be careful because it shouldn’t sound robotic.
Example of reflection feeling:
“I don’t understand my teacher. One second she says one thing and the next seconds says the opposite!”
“You feel confused by her?”
In order to have effective communication you must be sure you understood everything correctly. In case you are not sure about something, you shouldn’t assume things, but ask a clarification question.
You can make a summary of what has been said by taking the main point and telling it in logical and clear way. Using this method, you’ll make sure you got everything right and will give a clear image to the speaker about what has been said. It will also encourage the person to continue talking.
Asking (the Right) Questions
The last on this list, but actually the hardest and most important one. Questions are of key importance because they help you guide the conversation in specific direction and show that you are interested.
You shouldn’t ask question because you feel courageous to know something, but it should be relevant and of help for the speaker. When asking question, it’s really important not to be judging and to ask open ended question.
Open ended questions are questions that you can’t answere shortly with yes or no, or similar words. For example question that begin with what and how. Ex. “What do you think made him feel that way?” or “How did you felt when he said that?”. This question are broader than closed questions and provide opportunity for the speaker to answer in many ways. Avoid question starting with “Why”.