August 19, 2022

Incorporating Active Listening

Conversation is an art: a collection of intuitive processes in service of sharing an idea or perspective. Mastering communication is similar to mastering an instrument, one must comprehend the most basic building blocks first and work up from there. While many high-quality articles explore how to effectively express oneself, there is a comparative lack of attention to the other half of a conversation: listening. When listening to another person speak, we are often distracted or formulating a response in our head. These habits are detrimental to deep and productive communication and must be replaced: this is where active listening steps in. 

What is Active Listening? 

Active listening is exactly what the name implies: listening in an engaged and empathetic way with the sole intention of understanding the speaker. Proper application of active listening can transform the conversation and make you a more effective communicator. Whether you want to become a star-studded socialite, or just want to understand and convey ideas more effectively at work, active listening is a powerful tool which will serve to strengthen your conversational abilities.

How Does Active Listening Work?

Active listening is simply coming into a conversation to genuinely listen to and more importantly comprehend the other person. This may seem simple but can be surprisingly difficult to the untrained mind. The “active” in active listening stands in contrast to the more passive approach we usually employ. To listen passively does not mean you are ignoring the speaker just that you are not putting in the extra effort to read the subtext, emphasis, body language and social cues they may be providing you. Think of passive listening as eating fast food and active listening as enjoying a fine meal: one does not usually consider the complex interactions of flavours and spices while eating a burger but is more likely to while dining at a renowned local restaurant. Active listening, like eating a fine meal, requires you to think about what you are consuming and digest the information slowly and thoughtfully. 

How Does Active Listening Improve Communication in the Workplace?

Active listening serves to improve communication by prioritizing empathy and attention. When listening actively you are telling the speaker and yourself that you care what they have to say and are trying to fully understand them. This combination of intention and action goes a long way in ensuring a healthier conversation. 

In the fascinating piece “Active Listening; The Key of Successful Communication in Hospital Managers” a team of four researchers extoll many of the benefits of active listening in the workplace. Though their research primarily focuses on the experience of managers at training hospitals, the research they used to reach their conclusions is broadly applicable. They assert that active listening is very useful when dealing with co-workers and customers as it recognizes the importance of these people and their individual experience. They also make the point that having a management team who is trained in active listening reduces worker stress and improves interpersonal relationships among employees. In addition, they note that supervisors with better listening skills are more likely to maintain stronger communication with subordinates improving efficiency and making them feel supported in their work. 

Whether you are a manager trying to build a better working relationship with your employees or an employee trying to bring an idea to your manager, active listening is a powerful tool.

How Do I Become a Better Active Listener?

Becoming a better active listener takes time and practice but the more you do it the better you will get. Try incorporating some of the techniques provided below into professional and interpersonal conversations: you should notice an immediate improvement in both your engagement and your ability to understand where the other person is coming from.

1. Restate and Summarize:

Restating and summarizing what a person has said is an important part of active listening. It shows both that you are engaged with the speaker and works to clarify any miscommunication that might have occurred. Try to restate points and details that the speaker has put particular emphasis on or that you deem important. Summarize what they are saying by connecting the dots and communicating an idea back to them in more bare-bones form.

2. Read Body Language and Non-Verbal Cues:

Words aren’t everything in a conversation. Non-verbal cues are also important in understanding what a person is trying to communicate. The tone of voice, body language, context, and eye contact all say a lot. Pay attention to the non-verbal cues you put out by maintaining eye contact, leaning in, and keeping your tone engaged, these communicate that you are paying attention to your conversation partner. Remain attentive to your conversation partners’ non-verbal cues as well, it can provide a much deeper understanding than their words alone.

3. Withholding Judgment and Avoid Interrupting:

Make sure to withhold judgment and criticism until they are done speaking. Any criticism should be constructive and help your conversation partner. If you feel judgmental try to question why you feel that way and empathize with where your conversation partner is coming from. Interrupting for any reason is a way to make your conversation partner feel unheard. You should be entering all conversations with a willingness to hear the other person out and have your ideas and convictions challenged. 

4. Asking Open-Ended Questions:

Make sure to ask open-ended questions. These are great because it allows for the respondent to answer in as much or as little detail as they would like. This allows the respondent to maintain a continual train of thought and encourages more thoughtful answers. On top of getting better answers, asking open-ended questions also shows your interest in what your partner is talking about. Close-ended questions require almost no effort to think up and express trivial curiosity at best. The best open-ended questions come out of a place of genuine interest and your conversation partner will intuitively understand this. 

Take Your Listening Skills to the Next Level:

Active listening is a vital tool in your communication arsenal and one that you should teach yourself to use intuitively. The benefits of incorporating active listening into conversations include reductions in miscommunication, making others feel respected, and building stronger interpersonal bonds. Now that you understand the basics of active listening you should try your best to practice it in your day-to-day life. From the boardroom to the bar, active listening is vital to clear communication and greater understanding. 

One of the most important ways to strengthen your listening skills is to work on your listening skills regularly. The more you practice listening by following the points that can make you an active listener, the more it will help you advance in this skill. 

At Impro, we support leaders to improve their active listening and communication skills by leveraging our data-driven micro-coaching and consulting platform. Learn more about us and how we can help you improve your listening skills in the workspace. 

Get in touch with Impro.AI today!

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