Three Ways to be an Awesome Active Listener
October 8, 2019
Image from https://gavinortlund.com/2009/02/15/20-qualities-of-good-listeners/
While many of our blog posts here have touched on the power of silence and nonverbal communication –of which listening is a part of— this is our first post directly addressing how one can become a better active listener at work.
Active listening is a seemingly straightforward idea. In reality, it’s a powerful business skill that requires practice to master; once mastered, however, it can be a source of significant personal growth.
The benefits of active listening are plenty: it deepens workplace relationships, improves group productivity, enhances your mood, enables information retention, and it makes you a more thoughtful, respected team member or leader.
What are the key steps to being a better active listener?
1. Listen for meaning and listen to understand.
Resist the urge to reply and instead focus on trying to understand the emotions and feelings associated with the words spoken. When we listen with the intention of constructing meaning, we pick up on things that are both implied and concealed.
Listening for meaning is about listening to understand — as opposed to listening to reply. A study by Faye Doell of the University of Toronto showed that when you listen to understand, you’re much more satisfied with your personal relationships.
2. Pay attention to body language and nonverbal communication.
The body has infinite clues into what the speaker is saying, almost like a second language or a silent orchestra. Nonverbal messages are constantly being communicated via the speaker’s body — their hand gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, vocal tone and volume.
Pay attention to these micro-expressions of emotion and talk back to the speaker with appropriate body language. You can do this two ways: by using affirming body language that shows you’re listening — that is, maintaining eye contact, or using a head nod or head tilt. Or by mirroring their body language–echoing back fear, joy or excitement with your facial expressions, for instance.
3. Withhold judgment and ask clarifying questions.
As you listen, try to tease out whether you’re understanding the speaker. You can do this by occasionally paraphrasing key points with your own words or asking for clarification. Instead of interrupting, wait for them to pause to interject. “Let’s back up for a second, if I understand correct…” or “So what you’re saying is that…” are both good ways of empathetically reflecting and getting feedback on your level listening and understanding.