How to Be an Active Listener
Believe it or not, there is a lot of difference between listening and simply hearing. While hearing can be explained as a physical activity done by one of our senses, listening in itself is a skill. Communicating with others is a necessity of life and you cannot be a good communicator if you are not good at listening. While everyone wants to talk and express their own thoughts, it is important to learn how to listen to others. Being a good listener is found to be very effective in solving problems, understanding others, building and maintaining relationships, resolving conflicts and improving accuracy. Leaders at work who listen to their juniors tend to manage their teams more efficiently. oneHOWTO will tell you everything you need to know how to be an active listener.
While someone is talking to you, the best thing you can do is to pay attention to them. Screen out any distractions or noises in the background and try to understand what the other person is saying. Focusing on the person’s speech patterns and accent may also work as they can help you lock in better to understand other person’s point. Also keep your own feelings, biases and thoughts at bay while the other person is talking. It will make it more difficult to pay attention to what the person is trying to make you understand.
Make eye contact
The person will feel as if you are not listening to them if you keep scanning the room, gazing at the computer screen, looking out of the window or tapping fingers on your phone. When you scold your child, you often say ‘look here while I’m talking to you’, but the other person may not be able to say this to you out of courtesy. And believe me, you would be able to listen to the person more appropriately if you look directly at them instead of looking around.
According to experts, eye contact is one of the most important ingredients for effective communication. When we talk to a friend, lover or colleague, we look at each other and make eye contact. While someone is talking to you, turn your face towards them, put aside any books, papers or mobile phone, and look at them even if they are not looking at you. The person may not be able to look into your eyes due to feelings of shame, shyness, guilt or uncertainty. But you should stay focused and try to meet them with a sympathetic gaze.
We are taught since childhood that we should not interrupt someone while they are speaking. But, as we grow up, we tend to forget about this etiquette. Today, we see a number of reality programs and talk shows on TV where participants aggressively fight with and speak over each other to win an argument. When you interrupt someone, it means that you think that you are more important than the other person. You believe have something more accurate, relevant and interesting to say and you don’t care for the other person’s opinion. Instead of taking it as a conversation, you are taking it as a contest that you want to win.
Don’t impose suggestions and solutions
Every person has a different thinking and speaking rate. If you are quick at thinking, the other person may have a hard time trying to express their feelings and you should try to slow down your pace a little. While someone is talking about a problem, don’t be fast enough to jump in with a perfect solution. The other person is probably not looking for your advice, unless they ask for it. Most people are able to figure out their own solutions and you can help the person just by listening to them. If your mind is actually brimming with a brilliant suggestion, you should offer it only by gently asking ‘May I say what I think?’.
Open your mind
Listen to another person without making any judgment, disapproval or assessment. If something in the conversation alarmed you, you can feel alarmed but don’t make a judgment of ‘that was stupid’. Listen to the person, but don’t jump to a conclusion. Since the person is using words to represent his or her feelings or thoughts, words are sometimes not appropriate. You cannot feel those feelings or thoughts without actively listening to the person.
Don’t finish another's thought
Sometimes, you may feel that the person is talking too slowly and you may try to speed up the pace by finishing off their sentences. By doing this, you can send the person way off the base, because they were following their own way of thought and you may disturb their path.
Try to visualize
Listen to the information the person is communicating and try to visualize the situation. If you are fully alert and focused, your brain will automatically do the needed work to make visual representation of the relayed information. While you are listening, don’t keep planning on what you will say next. You cannot listen and rehearse at the same time. Focus only upon what the person is saying to you. Even if it is a boring conversation, concentrate on what the person is saying. If your mind starts to wander, force yourself immediately to focus back.
Don’t change topic
While your friend is excited to tell you about their trip to India, you jump in with a question on Indian Prime Minister and his new policies and implications. This easily leads to a description of Indian democracy, their struggle for freedom, their corrupt systems and risky roads. Before you even know it, the conversation shifts to India and the Indian experience of your friend becomes a distant memory. This conversational affront is a common occurrence.
Your question may entirely change the topic of the conversation and may lead to places that have nothing to do with where it had started. If one of your questions has led the person astray, it is your responsibility to get them back on track by bringing back their attention to the original topic. If a question lurks in your mind, keep it for some other time, at least when this conversation is over.
Empathize with the speaker
Empathy is the key of active listening as the connection we have makes conversation and the relationships we have stronger. Whether the speaker is expressing their sadness, joy or fear, try to convey similar feelings through your facial expressions. For empathy, you need to place yourself in that person’s situation and feel what it will be like if you were there at the moment. But this is not such an easy thing to do. It needs concentration and energy. Empathizing with the speaker is a generous thing to do and it takes your communication to an all new level.
Notice the non-verbal cues
In addition to paying attention to the person’s words, try to notice their non-verbal cues as well. While talking to a friend over phone, you can get an idea of how they are doing by their cadence and tone of voice. A little smile on their face can assure that they are doing fine. While looking at someone face to face, you can easily detect their boredom, irritation, enthusiasm, sadness, joy or other emotions. Don’t ignore these clues, as words are limited and can convey only some part of the entire message. Body language is an incredibly important part of communication and it works both ways. It will be hard for you to listen if you are lying down and not even looking at the person. It will also make the person have more trouble engaging with you as they speak.
These points are for you to become an active listener, not to become a debater. Once you listen to someone and hear what they have to say, then you will be in a better place to discuss with them and to address their points in a clearer way. It is also important to remember that listening is different from agreeing. In fact, being a good active listener will put you in a better place to counter someone's points as well as making the other person more likely to listen to you. This is because you will have shown them respect and they will be more likely to return the favor.
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