While being a good speaker is a very important skill, listening is arguably more important. Listening can help you understand people better, learn more, avoid misunderstandings, and make fewer mistakes (because you’ll get it the first time). Listening is not something that just happens, hearing does. Listening takes effort, and it CAN be improved with practice. What can you do to become an active listener?
1. Make an effort to really pay attention to the speaker. Start by maintaining eye contact.
2. Don’t let the environment or other distractions get in the way of your listening.
3. Stay focused and interested. Don’t allow yourself to become bored. Be inquisitive. Stay engaged. This is not the time to start planning what you want to say or to start planning your day!
4. Show you are listening with your own body language and responsiveness. Nodding your head or mirroring the emotions of the speaker assures the speaker that you are really listening.
5. Give the speaker time to pause and gather their thoughts and continue. Don’t use every silence as a cue to jump in and start talking, however, it is okay to sometimes ask a question to clarify what is being said, or to paraphrase what the speaker is saying to make sure you understand correctly.
6. Postpone judgment. Our beliefs and assumptions about the world, the issues, and other people can often prevent us from really hearing what is being said because we get angry and start preparing a counter-argument in our head or judging the person and not even respecting what they have to say. While you may not agree with everything the speaker is saying, active listening means that you are working to understand what is being said, gain information, and broaden perspectives. You can respond later. For now, listen.
7. Respond respectfully, appropriately, and honestly. Now that you are the speaker, treat the listener the way you want to be treated.