Skill no. 2: Active listening

The ability to be an effective listener is often taken for granted. Hearing is often confused with listening, but hearing is a merely recognizing sound vibrations. Listening is making sense of what we hear and requires paying attention, interpreting, and remembering. Effective listening is active rather than passive. Active listening is hard work and requires you to ‘get inside’ the speaker’s head in order to understand the communication from his or her point of view.

We can identify eight specific behaviors that effective active listeners demonstrate. You can be more effective at active listening if you choose these behaviors

  • Make eye contact

Making eye contact with the speaker focuses your attention, reduces the likelihood that you’ll be distracted, and encourages the speaker.

  • Exhibit affirmative nods and appropriate facial expressions

The effective active listener shows interest in what’s being said through nonverbal signals. Affirmative nods and appropriated facial expressions that signal interest in what’s being said, when added to eye contact, convey to the speaker that you’re really listening.

  • Avoid distracting actions or gestures

The other side of showing interest is avoiding actions that suggest your mind is elsewhere. When listening, don’t look at your watch, shuffle papers, play with your pencil, or engage in similar distractions.

  • Ask questions

The serious active listener analyses what she or he hears and asks questions. This behavior provides clarification, ensures understanding, and assures the speaker you’re really listening.

  • Paraphrase

Restate in your own words what the speaker has said. The effective active listener uses phrases such as “what I hear you saying is …” or “do you mean …?” Paraphrasing is an excellent control device to check whether or not you’re listening carefully and is also a control for accuracy of understanding.

  • Avoid interrupting the speaker

Let the speaker complete his or her thoughts before you try to respond. Don’t try to second-guess where the speaker’s thoughts are going. When the speaker is finished you’ll know it.

  • Don’t over talk

Most of us would rather speak our own ideas than listen to what others say. While talking might be more fun and silence might be uncomfortable, you can’t talk and listen at the same time. The good active listener recognizes this fact and doesn’t over talk.

  • Make smooth transition between the roles of speaker and listener

In most work situations, you’re continually shifting back and forth between the roles of speaker and listener. The effective active listener makes transitions smoothly from speaker to listener and back to speaker.