We live in such a reactionary world that it can be hard to remember the importance of stepping back and just observing. Naturally we all want to be heard, but sometimes the best way to be heard is to listen first. This is where active listening comes in—a skill mostly used by therapists but can reap major benefits in everyday life.
Defining Active Listening
When you engage in active listening you are attentively hearing what the speaker has to say with the goal of being able to reflect on and understand to the core their message. While actively listening you may also take time to notice body language, voice inflection and other environmental factors that could be key to what they are saying. Active listening is about being fully present in a conversation with the goal of understanding but not necessarily reacting or expecting to get your opinion in.
Being skilled in active listening is important whether you are a manager, in a serious relationship, a reporter or any other various situations in life. When you actively listen to the people around you when they are trying to say something you strengthen the relationship by building trust. It shows you care and want to understand the “why” behind a situation or person.
6 Important Active Listening Skills
1. Pay attention. This should go without saying but it is surprisingly hard for a lot of people to fully pay attention when someone is speaking. They get too busy thinking about how they will respond that they miss little details and body language that could impact what should be said rather than what will be said. People also tend to get a little anxious to respond and can cut the speaker off. Just breathe, take in the current moment, and don’t be afraid to leave a few seconds of silence in between talking just to be sure you aren’t cutting anyone off.
2. Stay neutral. It’s easy to come in with an opinion or instant reaction, it is hard to refrain from doing that until you get all the information. Part of active listening is about being open to new possibilities and seeing things from a different perspective than your own. When you refrain from instant judgement you allow yourself the opportunity to learn something new and make the other person more open to what you will have to say later.
3. Think on it. Don’t assume you instantly understand what has just been talked about, really take the time to think about the information just relayed to you. Think about follow up questions you have so as to better understand the speaker’s line of thinking or situation. When you reflect on a conversation it lets your counterpart know you are on the same page and respect what they had to say. This is huge in relationship building.
4. Clarify. Once you have given whatever has been said time to breathe, the next step is making sure you truly understand the situation. Now is the appropriate time to start asking the follow up questions you were forming in the “think on it” stage. Make sure you put emphasis on asking about further clarifying details rather than just telling the person how you interpreted what they said.
5. Run it back. This is the part where you let the other person know how you understand what they are saying. Make sure you restate key themes and responsibilities of each party. By doing this you are actively making sure you have all the information down pat and can get any other necessary clarification that may have been missed.
6. Share your thoughts. Finally. This is where you really get the opportunity to speak and say what you think and feel while the other person sits back and takes in your thoughts on whatever the matter at hand is.