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Active Listening

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

The speaker speaks and the other party listens, before both switch roles and it is now the other party’s turn to speak. In a proper back-and-forth conversation, one key skill is important to keep in mind to make these exchanges fruitful and even possible in the first place. This skill is none other than the skill of active listening.

What is active listening?

From first glance, the term “active listening” sounds pretty self-explanatory: listening actively. And while that is true, it involves so much more than just the act of paying attention to what someone is saying. Active listening also involves observing non-verbal communication from the speaker such as body language, tone, etc. You see, active listening is not just listening; it is a method to actively participate in a conversation professionally and properly.

Active listening is a soft skill that is important and applicable to almost any scenario, whether it’s during a conversation with a friend, listening to a lecture in class, attending a meeting at your workplace, participating in a debate, or even watching a video on YouTube.

Ways to improve active listening skills

Fortunately, active listening is not a complicated thing to pick up. Below are 5 simple and commonly known ways to improve your active listening skills:

  1. Withholding bias and pre-judgement. A speaker will be expressing their perspective to you, and their views and opinions may not always match yours. Often while having a conversation with someone else about a certain topic, people might let their emotions and opinions about said topic get in the way of paying attention to what the other person might be saying, especially when their opinions differ. As a result, they stop listening or zone out before giving the other party a chance to explain their views. As an active listener, you must listen to them with an open mind and allow yourself to empathize with the ideas being presented. This will allow you to understand the speaker better and even learn new things about the topics at hand.

  2. Ask questions and clarify. A common mistake that many do when listening to people talk is that they do not ask questions about things they do not understand, due to fear of appearing uneducated on the topic and that because they do not understand it, they will appear to not care for the topic. In reality, asking questions is not only a sign that you are paying attention to the speaker’s words, but also improves the communication from both sides of the conversation. Admitting that you do not understand what the person is saying will allow the speaker to clarify and take time to explain themselves better and more carefully. It also creates grounds for improved discussion on the topic and makes the conversation less one-sided.

  3. Observe non-verbal cues carefully. The words being spoken in a conversation make up only a small fraction of the total amount of communication being exchanged. A huge part of the information we deliver is hidden in our non-verbal communication. A good active listener pays attention to such cues, including but not limited to body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, vocal tone, and eye contact.

It also helps to adjust your own body language as a listener. For example, smiling helps you appear inviting and kind. Straightening your posture and maintaining eye contact helps you appear interested and involved in the conversation. Mirroring the facial expressions of the speaker will let the speaker know that their expressions are being understood and empathized with.

  1. Respond appropriately when it’s your turn to speak. Refrain from interrupting the speaker or speaking out of turn. Not only does it come off as inconsiderate toward what the speaker is saying, but it also affects the efficiency and understandability of the conversation. When it is your time to talk, be honest and candid in your response, and assert your opinions firmly but politely. This is where empathy plays a role as you should treat the other party like how you’d like to be treated.

  2. Summarize and reflect. When there is a lot of information being provided, it helps to take a step back and look at the big picture of what the speaker is conveying. Taking time to reflect upon the main points of the conversation helps you understand the topics spoken about and also ensures to the speaker that you are actively listening.

Benefits of active listening

As mentioned earlier, there are extremely many benefits of active listening, no matter what the situation. With active listening, you can experience noticeable improvements such as but not limited to:

  1. Increased learning rate and better comprehension skills

  2. Establishing trust and bonding between the speaker and the audience

  3. Improvement in observation skills and ability to pick up cues

  4. Being better at maintaining and initiating conversations

  5. Improving your professional outlook and credibility

  6. Better attention span

  7. Better communication and relationship building among team members

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