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Master the Art of Active Listening Using these 7 Techniques!

Active listening is a crucial skill to building strong relationships and effective communication within teams and with clients. It is essential for problem-solving and avoiding misunderstandings, a key component in achieving business goals.

What is Active Listening?

We often overlook the importance of listening in communications. Many of us might assume presentation skills are the most important, but don’t overlook the fact that great communication skills begin with listening.

To build trust and rapport, leaders need to be active listeners.

Active listening involves truly paying attention to what others are saying. This includes both verbal and nonverbal. It’s also about asking clarifying questions to ensure understanding. Summarizing key points is also another good way to show that you’re engaged.

When you practice active listening, you demonstrate respect. You also show that you value the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. This creates a safe space for open communication and fosters a sense of trust and connection.

This is essential for a business owner to develop into a trusted Subject Matter Expert that your clients can not see running their business without and will refer you to others.

Oftentimes, we don’t retain what we hear. In fact, the average listener only remembers 25 percent of a talk or lecture two months later, according to testing from Harvard Business Review.

Active listening requires much deeper attention and empathy, which ideally leads to a greater understanding. It is the practice of paying full attention to what someone is saying in order to demonstrate unconditional acceptance and unbiased reflection

Researcher Harry Weger

In fact, Carl Rogers originally developed the methodology, sometimes known as “reflective listening,” for psychologists in the 1950s. It has since been used in fields such as business and education. When we practice active listening, two outcomes typically happen: You retain important information and the person speaking to you feels understood.

Benefits of Active Listening

The practice of being more present while listening can benefit your career. In your day-to-day conversations with colleagues, in networking, in sustaining genuine connections as a manager, listening makes people feel heard.

Empathy, the basis of active listening, is crucial in building meaningful relationships. Active listening can even help you manage your emotions, retain data and information better, and resolve conflict.

Demand for social and emotional skills, including active listening, is projected to grow by more than 20 percent across all industries between 2016 and 2030, according to McKinsey.  Further, research suggests that good interpersonal skills are a strong predictor of workplace success overall, due to the link between team effectiveness, empathy, and inclusivity.

Here are 7 Active Listening Techniques You Can Practice Everyday:

So how do you improve your active listening skills? Try using the techniques listed below. They are gained from the notion that active listening is a practice that can always be improved.

1. Focus on the intent and purpose of the conversation.

Active listening begins with the objective to be aware and responsive and open to the other person—including the goal and purpose of the conversation—in order to truly understand and empathize with them. Incorporating mindfulness into active listening means that the speaker has your full attention.

Being mindful generally means being respectful and aware of the present moment. No daydreaming, no interrupting, and no thinking about what you’re going to say in response. Instead, take in the content and purpose of their words and body language. That way, you and the speaker build an authentic connection and you will be able to feel that by the way they engage with you in return.

2. Pay attention to body language.

Much of communication relies on the nonverbal.

In face-to-face conversation, communication is 55 percent nonverbal, 38 percent vocal.

Researcher Albert Mehrabian

Body language refers to the conscious and unconscious gestures and movements. It can include facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, eye contact or movement, and touch. When listening to others, consider what your body language says. Nodding your head, making eye contact, or smiling (if appropriate) are excellent cues to show that you’re paying attention.  This is especially important in the world of virtual meetings where people are laser focused on each other more so than in an in person conversation or meeting.

3. Give encouraging verbal cues.

Verbal cues are responses a listener may express to show they understand what’s being shared. This includes what Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer considers “minimal encouragers,” such as replying “yes, I see” or “mmhmm” or “I understand.” These are often used alongside gestures and expressions, such as smiling or nodding.

Also, the speaker might give verbal cues when they want the listener to pay extra attention, like speaking more slowly or loudly to emphasize certain points, stressing certain words, using a different tone of voice, or pausing. In that silence, they might expect a response from their listener. 

It is important to know your audience!

While many of us might consider eye contact and body language to be hallmarks of good communication, neurodivergent individuals may communicate in different ways than we are used to. This could manifest in less eye contact and more limited body language, as well as more blunt and unfiltered use of language. 

When in conversation with neurodivergent individuals, practice content-oriented actions like paraphrasing, summarizing, and asking questions to help the other person feel heard. 

4. Clarify and paraphrase information.

Sometimes, it is not enough to nod and maintain eye contact in a conversation. In the workplace, you might have doubts about whether your mind grasped the full picture. Clarifying and paraphrasing the information back to the speaker can help both of you fill in any gaps in understanding.

5. Ask questions.

Asking questions can eliminate confusion. You may think you have processed most of what they said, but you still have questions. By asking clarifying questions, you ensure you have heard the correct information.

As an active listener, you can also demonstrate interest by asking questions. Asking an open-ended question can encourage the speaker to elaborate on an important or interesting idea. It also shows that you have been listening attentively up to that point, and you want to know more. 

6. Refrain from judgment.

When practicing active listening, it is important to remain open, neutral, and nonjudgmental. What’s so wonderful about taking the steps to become a better listener is that you can engage with new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities that you may never have accessed previously. Withholding judgment, avoiding criticism, and approaching each conversation with an open mind can open many doors.

7. Summarize, share, and reflect.

Toward the end of your conversation, make sure you end on a high note. Share a quick summary or a few notes about what you both discussed. If you are asked, give your thoughts and opinions in a way that shows you have really engaged. In informal settings, sharing thoughts and feelings may lead to deeper and meaningful conversations.

Finally, here are 10 Qualities That Can Make You An Exceptional Listener  

There are different kinds of listeners. Some people listen only until they get an answer. Others only listen to their own needs and thoughts. And there are those who truly listen. Attentively and eager to really understand what someone is trying to say.

#1 You’re in the here and now

Often, we’re not really in the moment when we’re listening to someone. While the other person is still talking we have already jumped to conclusions, we are miles ahead of what the person is telling us. We’re already piecing together our response. Good listening means that you stop your inner monologue and truly give your full and undivided attention to the person who is talking. Shine an imaginary flashlight on that person. All the light, your focus is on the person talking.

 #2 Distractions don’t stand a chance with you

Even if it seems so simple, listening is not that easy! And that’s the problem: Listening is hard work, but it has the reputation of being a nearly effortless job. So much so that we might be tempted to do something else while listening. No, a listening brain can’t write a text message at the same time. Be respectful and turn your phone on silent,

#3 You’re naturally curious

Interest is an essential element of listening. It might seem like a paradox that your curiosity and interest could have declined especially for those who are close and important to you. The problem is that we start thinking we already know everything about that person. We begin overhearing the new within the old information.

In a conversation you are the detective. You gather information and are keen to discover more about what your counterpart feels and what he or she is moved by. No matter how much you already know, there’s always more to discover.

 #4 You’re sincere and open minded – You don’t judge prematurely

We are skilled at evaluating things and making up our minds quickly. This is normal and most of the time it’s useful. In listening however, a rash opinion kills the conversation. While our counterpart hasn’t even finished their story, we might be thinking “Well, I would have done that very differently.” In those moments you’re not really listening anymore. A good listener has learned to postpone these reactions to the end of the conversation.

Otherwise you’ll miss out on the fundamental feelings of your counterpart. You won’t be able to understand or empathize with his or her point of view.

 #5 Your senses have good reception

Trembling hands, raised eyebrows, tense shoulders – our bodies are also speaking, and they should be heard. Nonverbal communication is an important part of what is being said. All your senses should stay tuned to get the full message.

But, not only that: Listening is not a passive endeavor – it itself is active. The body language of a good listener answers with eye contact, an understanding nod, facing the person who is talking.

 #6 You ask the right questions

Listening does not mean sitting there in silence. In the right moment, it makes sense to reply, to communicate that you are listening. A good way to do this is by paraphrasing. “So, what you’re saying is… “should become part of your listeners’ toolbox. This way, you’re not only giving your friend attention, you’re also making sure that you really understood what the other person was trying to say.  

#7 You accept other opinions and can dial back your own

When we listen, we get a peek of our counterpart’s world. Even if it doesn’t align with our own world view, it’s fundamental to stay interested and attentive. We can learn so much especially from those who don’t share our subjective opinion. They are the ones who can truly give us new input if we choose to take advantage of the opportunity.

#8 You don’t interrupt

Let’s be honest: Sometimes we’re part of a conversation where we’re impatiently anticipating the thought or feeling someone else is struggling to express. It seems so enticing to just finish the sentence, to pace things up. Patience is a virtue – this goes for listening as well!

#9 You stay authentic

We all know them: Those who just don’t stop talking. Sometimes the conversation is so one-sided that there comes a point where you just can’t keep listening. Here, it’s okay to interrupt someone! Nobody has to “endure” a conversation. That’s not what listening is about. 

 #10 You know your limits

A good listener recognizes where his or her abilities come to an end.  We all have our limits on how much we can listen, just as we have limits on how much we can give or do. When your capacity to listen has been exceeded, you need to find a way to end the conversation, or creatively steer it in a different direction.

Active listening is crucial in business communication and improving communication, to help individuals and organizations. If you want to improve this essential business tool skill, you’ve got to practice, practice, practice!

Ina Masten, Founder of Masten Solutions

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