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Practice Makes Perfect: Tips to Becoming a Better Active Listener

Active listening is key to successful communication and maintaining strong relationships. Discover how to become a better active listener to improve both personally and professionally.
Two Women Having a Conversation

Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.

Margaret J. Wheatley
Ever felt like you couldn’t recall what someone said in a conversation you just had even though you heard them speak? Or maybe it takes a few minutes for you to comprehend? If you find this happening often, you are probably not practicing active listening. Unlike regular listening, active listening uses a combination of techniques to understand, reflect upon, and retain what is being said. Listening actively is essential to effective communication and for building stronger relationships.

Do you struggle with active listening? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. You are not alone! Here are a few steps you can take to improve your active listening skills and help you build stronger relationships both personally and professionally.

1. Use non-verbal cues to show that you’re listening
Ever had a conversation with someone who seemed to be paying attention to everything but you, leaving you feeling as if you were talking to a wall?

When communicating with others, it is important to show that you are actively listening by maintaining eye contact and using non-verbal cues, such as a smile or nod, to show you are hearing what the speaker is saying. The use of positive body language such as smiling and nodding can create energy throughout a conversation while also encouraging the speaker to continue speaking. Conversely, negative body language such as crossed arms and a lack of facial expression may communicate that you are uncomfortable or not fully engaged. When it comes to eye contact, take a break if necessary and slowly glance to the side before regaining eye contact. Through eye contact and non-verbal cues, you can establish trust and show the speaker they have your undivided attention.

2. Limit distractions and stay focused
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who seemed to be in a distant place, checked their watch, phone, email, or sent texts while you were speaking, making you feel as if you are talking to a wall? Or when listening to others, do you find it difficult to ignore the distractions of technology, other people, your thoughts, or to-do lists in your head?

When you disengage from the conversation and give in to distractions, you send a message that suggests that you are uninterested or don’t have time to listen to what the speaker is saying. Become a better active listener by staying focused on the conversation and  limiting distractions that might stop you from listening well. Silence your phone or put it away, screen out background noise and interruptions, block out any mental tasks in your head, and give the speaker your full attention.

3. Show your interest by asking questions
When you speak, do you feel as if others don’t care or are uninterested in what you have to say or as if you aren’t fully being heard? Or do you find yourself easily bored when listening to others?

When listening to others you can keep a conversation interesting by asking open-ended questions that will tell you more about the situation. Instead of asking yes or no questions, ask questions that will force the speaker to elaborate and keep talking. Listen carefully to the answers, then ask follow-up questions to gain more insight. If you don’t ask questions, that implies that you’re not interested in the discussion or don’t care about the person talking. Taking the time to ask questions and dive deeper into the discussion shows that you value and care about what others have to say.

Tip: If you tend to get bored easily when listening, stay focused by putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes and visualizing the story through their eyes.

4. Keep your personal experiences to yourself
Have you ever felt like you can’t finish a sentence due to constant interruptions or not being allowed to finish your own thoughts? Do you often get interrupted in the middle of a conversation by people jumping in to share personal experiences that they think are relevant to what you are about to say? Or like me, do you stop listening because you’re eager to jump in with an immediate response because you think you understand what the speaker is trying to say or anxious to share your own story in an attempt to relate to or help others?

As we listen, we often interrupt the speaker when we think we know where the conversation will go. We get so preoccupied with our response that we instantly tune out the person speaking as we wait for our turn to speak. When we interject with our own personal experiences without letting the other person finish their story, it can lead to two separate conversations with each person attempting to get their point across without listening to the other. When it comes to active listening, it’s not about you! By being selfless and keeping your personal experiences to yourself, you can show that you are interested in and invested in what other people have to say.

Tip: When you get tempted to interrupt or jump in with your own experience, instead ask a question that will prompt the speaker to keep talking and elaborate on their story.

5. Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
When you try to vent to a friend or colleague, are you ever interrupted with thier advice or solutions to your problems? Or are you so focused on offering others advice and solutions to their problems that you don’t listen to what they have to say?

When people come to us with a problem, we are naturally inclined to give advice or find solutions for them, not realizing that in doing so, we shut them down and make them feel unheard. Just because someone vents to you about an issue doesn’t mean they’re asking for your opinions or advice. When someone discusses a problem, practice effective active listening by hearing them out, offering them an outlet, and not giving them your opinion or advice. If they want your suggestions, they’ll ask you.

Listening actively can be challenging and requires practice. When you become a more effective listener, you will be able to make deeper connections and communicate better.
Comment below: What is your greatest challenge when it comes to listening?

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