Listening should be an active process with which to gain information, understand, and learn. How well you listen will have a significant impact on your ability to understand and have relationships with others. When trying to be an effective communicator, you must give your undivided attention while listening; this is a skill that must actively be improved to better your interpersonal communication skills.
What is Active Listening?
Different people have varying listening abilities, but we can improve our active listening skills by practising active listening. Active listening happens when you consciously concentrate on what others are saying instead of just using passive listening. When you listen actively, it can act as a reflection of interest through both verbal and non-verbal messages, e.g. nods, saying yes, making eye contact, etc. When you show interest, it helps to keep a conversation engaging, causing participants to be more open and honest.
Why is active listening important in the workplace?
For an organization to be successful, employees need to maintain effective communication. There are many advantages of active listening, such as:
- Build trust. When your words match your actions and you have mastered effective listening, it builds a feeling of mutual trust between professionals. Employees can better convey information, assign tasks and report back frequently. Without trust, communication will fall behind, and work performance will suffer.
- Increase productivity. Being able to communicate will reduce misunderstandings, and work will be completed more effectively. Proper feedback while considering the views of others will also make them feel heard and respected, making for a healthy workplace.
- Resolve conflict. Misunderstandings can lead to conflict, but this can be resolved using good communication and critical listening. To do this, you must be able to keep an open mind and use communication and active listening techniques to see things from others’ perspectives.
- Promote self-empowerment. When individuals feel heard, it encourages them to speak their minds, listen and be open-minded towards colleagues—having this added confidence, your company can build awareness and respect.
- Improves acceptance of employees. Each company has its own unique culture, and for a business to be successful, all employees must be accepted within this culture and feel accepted. When all employees can listen actively and show respect, it fosters acceptance and belonging under employees.
Signs of Active Listening
There are multiple verbal and non-verbal cues that someone is actively listening to what others are saying. When you are engaging in a conversation, you can tell if someone is listening by paying attention to these signs (or a lack thereof):
Verbal Cues of Active Listening
- Positively reinforcing the message of the speaker with words of encouragement or understanding.
- Remembering, paraphrasing, and repeating details or focus points of the conversation and expanding on them with their own ideas and perspectives.
- Asking for clarification by asking specific questions or making sure that the correct message was received.
- Summarising the main points of the speaker’s message and repeating them to ensure mutual understanding.
Non-verbal Cues of Active Listening
- Body language like smiling in agreement, often giving nods of the head as a way of confirmation, etc.
- Making and maintaining eye contact in combination with other non-verbal behaviors.
- Posture leaning forward, sideways, a slight tilt of their head etc.
- Focus, a skilful listener will not get distracted, fidget or look around.
- Mirroring the speaker’s actions or facial expressions to show sympathy and empathy.
Active listening is a beneficial (if not necessary) skill for everyday life, in and out of the workplace. Although acquiring this skill and picking up on verbal and non-verbal signals can be more challenging for some individuals and may require lots of patience, it can be achievable for anyone willing to put in the conscious effort.