Between texting, phone calls, emails, tweets, LinkedIn posts, Slack messages, Pinterest boards, Gchat, and so on, communicating with each other is at an all-time high. However, communication requires really, truly listening — and active listening is a skill that tends to get lost in the sea of technology noise.
The good news is that anyone can improve their active listening skills. By doing so, everyone can build better relationships, resolve conflicts, and understand issues, whether in the workplace or elsewhere. In short, becoming a great active listener can yield amazing benefits for your career and relationships.
The most important thing to remember is to try and NOT problem solve on the fly. Try and quiet your problem-solving mind. When you are thinking ahead to the answers, or what to say next, you are no longer truly listening!
Read on for 10 tips to help you develop and hone active listening skills:
1. Maintain eye contact. Don’t be distracted by the ping noise of your phone, or scan the room to see what else is happening. Give them the courtesy of your full attention. Better yet, put your on airplane mode when in conversation with someone in front of you.
2. Relax. On the other hand, paying attention to someone simply means that: pay attention. It doesn’t mean you need to maintain a serious or fixed stare. Carry on as normal, nod, but remain attentive by being present.
3. Be empathetic. The soul of active listening is empathy. If the person you’re listening to is sad, happy, fearful, or angry in your conversation, put yourself in their shoes. Pay attention to power words and repetitions such as, “I was really, really upset” or, “I was ecstatic to get my promotion”.
4. Look for nonverbal cues. Their cadence, tone of voice and body language can offer a lot of information. Look for small signs of nervousness, enthusiasm, or anxiety for example in their mannerism, gestures, and posture to help determine how they really feel.
5. Create a mental image. If you’re having trouble following along or paying attention, paint a visual image in your head to help stay focused.
6. Avoid interrupting. Sometimes, it seems like a good idea to finish someone else’s sentences, especially if you think you know what’s coming. Yet this can derail their train of thought or come off as impatient. Moreover, interrupting can also come off as aggressive or competitive, as though you’re trying to “win” the conversation. Slow down to their speed so you can listen attentively.
7. Stay in the moment. It might seem like a good idea to jump ahead mentally and plan what to say next. However, doing so means you’re not actively listening and only listening only to part of it while devoting mental energy to your next move. Rehearsing and listening at the same time doesn’t work, so give your full attention to the other person.
8. Wait for pauses to ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation, but, wait until there’s a pause. Additionally, if your question takes the conversation off-topic, gently help steer it back on the right track.
9. Offer feedback. “Congratulations!” “What an awful ordeal!” “You must be excited!” show that you understand their feelings. You can also just nod along and show your understanding with facial expressions that match their emotion, like a smile or a frown.
10. Don’t judge. Even if you feel like something they said was alarming or should be pointed out, resist the urge. Likewise, don’t jump to conclusions. A story with a rocky start may indeed have a happy ending!