Active listening is when you pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal communication from a speaker, then respond appropriately. Over your adult life, you’ll have lots of friends and associates who will approach you to discuss certain things they deem important. Here are the advantages of being an active listener;
- Solidifies relationships with friends.
- People get to trust you more.
- Helps you learn and understand more about people during conversations
- Enables you to give wise and plausible advice
Some of us aren’t born with the same amount of tolerance and focus to keep up with a conversation that goes hours on end. However, below is a list of strategies that you can follow, so you can be an active listener and have more meaningful conversations.
1. Observe body language
Psychologists argue that our bodies reveal way more than our words do. This means if you studied someone close enough, you could easily tell if they were lying or telling the truth. More to that, it reveals their emotional state of mind. Here are a few things to look out for;
- The tone of their speech
- Their facial expressions/ cues
- Hand gestures/ gesticulation
- The pattern of their speech.
However, these are not all that accurate. They only add a limited amount of insight that can only be pieced together if you listen carefully to what they say.
If all you seek is to understand them well enough, these facial and body cues will come in handy.
2. Stay silent.
So many times when we listen to people as they speak, we are tempted to respond. However, interrupting your speaker is not a good trait because;
- Some speakers hate to be interrupted, and this could truncate the conversation.
- You might cut them short on what they were going to say
- They start to form an opinion of you, and that affects whatever else they have to say and whether they say it.
- You might theorize before you have got their entire perspective, leaving you with the wrong opinion.
- It makes you look stupid if you give your advice before it’s required – or with limited facts.
Of course there are times when you might have to say something, especially when the speaker invites you to say something. Also, some people will think you don’t understand them if you stay totally silent.
Therefore, humming or giving them filler words every now and then is very important for them to keep the conversation going.
3. Paraphrase the speaker’s words.
Some people are not good conversationalists. They won’t stay on topic and they’ll talk about so many different things that you might not know what to respond to.
This is where paraphrasing with phrases like “so you’re saying…”, “what you’re trying to mean is…” becomes important.
- It shows the speaker that you seek to understand them better.
- It provides room for clarity in case you’re wrong. This is because the speaker will clarify whatever they were saying.
- Enables you simplify the point for the better of your understanding. It’s almost like separating wine from water.
4. Probe for clarity.
In every meaningful conversation, listening and humming while you nod whenever your speaker pauses, is not a way to listen actively, unless your aim is not to understand the speaker. You have to probe with questions like;
- What does that mean?
- What exactly did you see/ hear/ touch/ feel?
- Please explain more about that
- How many people did you see?
This will tell you whether you are being lied to, or told the truth. But most importantly, you’ll get to know exactly what message is being conveyed.
5. Acknowledge a previous point before sharing your opinion
So many people listen to respond, and that’s the reason why a good active listener has to do the exact opposite. You have to start off by acknowledging the speaker’s point, before you even get to tell them anything. Here’s why;
- It shows the speaker that you were actually listening.
- It shows the speaker that you don’t despise their opinion. This is especially true if you’re countering their argument
- Attracts the attention of the speaker, and they will listen to you attentively
- Prevents noisy discussions
6. Change your mindset.
So many times, we don’t understand what people tell us because we are preoccupied with opinions of our own self-importance.
However, you have to change your mindset and adopt the following phrases of humility;
- Only speak when you know what you’re talking about
- Everyone probably knows something you don’t – so they deserve the right to be listened to.
- You’re probably not as smart as you think, so get your act together.
With the proper mindset, you get to listen to people with an open mind, thereby understanding everything they say.
7. Emphasize and refer back to the goal of the conversation
We’ve all been into conversations where we later forget how it all started. This usually happens in conversations that turn into arguments. Referring back to the goal of the conversation helps to;
- Keep the conversation precise
- Maintain the original purpose of the conversation
- Prevent the conversation from crossing red lines that might spark a heated debate.
Sometimes, it is hard to do this, and we usually let the conversation take the turn it wants, and we just follow along. Be strong enough and do the opposite.
8. Stay neutral.
During many conversations and discussions, we tend to take sides because it makes us feel better, emotionally. However, you have to resist the urge of falling into this trap.
Neutrality helps keep the conversation flowing naturally, and will enable you to give unbiased advice or responses to the speaker.
9. Express your honest opinion.
When it’s time to respond, don’t try to sound so smart, because you probably won’t. Instead, just express your opinion and stand to be corrected in case you’re wrong.
The most important thing, however, is to make sure you stay the course of the conversation. All your responses must show that you have been listening.
Active listening is almost made to seem like a gift, because it’s rare to find active listeners during this modern age. However, everyone can learn and adopt this trait into their daily lives if they keep an open mind and learn to pay attention.