Active listening is an often-overlooked skill that most effective communicators possess.
Like all project management communications advice I’ve received, this one holds value way beyond my projects.
Becoming a better communicator — and an expert at active listening — will enrich many areas of your life — including your relationships in and out of the workplace, and the day-to-day realities of managing projects.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the concept of active listening and some tips for becoming a better active listener.
What Is Active Listening?
Active listening is a vital skill in any relationship, whether it be in personal or professional settings. It requires full attention, understanding, and engagement with the speaker.
So what exactly is active listening?
By way of definition, active listening is a communication technique that involves fully focusing on, understanding, and responding to what is being said.
It requires the listener to pay attention to the speaker’s words, nonverbal cues, and underlying emotions, and to respond in an appropriate and meaningful way.
This helps to build trust and improve understanding between the speaker and listener.
Sounds great, and perhaps even easy, right?
On the contrary, active listening is often not natural or automatic for most of us.
How To Become A Better Active Listener
Being a good active listener requires ongoing effort.
For one thing, you have to avoid the tendency toward “listening to respond” and instead focus on “listening to understand.”
You’ve probably fallen into that “listening to respond” trap a time or two; I know I have.
Something the other person says triggers a thought or an idea, and you want to make sure you don’t forget it.
So you wind up having a little inner dialog to lock in that thought, and before you realize it, you aren’t actually listening to the other person any longer.
Instead, listen to understand. This requires effort and mindfulness.
Here are some additional tips for becoming a better active listener:
1. Pay Attention
Give the speaker your full attention and avoid distractions such as your phone or other tasks.
2. Show Interest
Verbal and nonverbal cues can show that you are engaged in the conversation. Examples include nodding your head, making eye contact, or making appropriate facial expressions.
Repeat back to the speaker what you have heard to ensure that you understand and to show that you have been paying attention.
4. Ask Questions
If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Try “If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying …” It’s better to ask for clarification than to make assumptions. Asking questions is also a great way to show the other person you are listening and making an effort to understand.
5. Be Nonjudgmental
Listen without judgment or preconceived notions. Allow the other person to express themselves without interruption or criticism.
6. Avoid Interrupting
Allow the speaker to finish their thoughts before jumping in with your own.
Try to understand the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with them. Remember, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing, it’s about understanding.
8. Be Patient
Becoming fluent in active listening requires practice, and it is important to be patient if you want to improve. Remember that everyone communicates differently, so it may take some time to learn how to effectively communicate with someone.