The Power of Active Listening
Active listening is an underrated communication skill that Leaders and professionals need to develop and improve. The benefits which come from this ability will raise your reputation and help you develop empathy.
This article will explore the importance of active listening and how you can develop your skill to improve communication and at work.
What is active listening?
Active listening is the ability to pay attention to the other person without becoming distracted such as thinking about what you will say or how to respond. Nor should you allow yourself to get bored and lose focus on what the other person is saying.
Dr Stephen Covey author of The seven habits of highly effective people said “First seek to understand then to be understood“ In other words when listening to others you should focus 100% on them and not on what you want to say.
How can you develop your active listening skills?
1. Stay focused on the other person without interrupting
A simple but important part of active listening is to stay focused on what the other person is saying without interrupting them. Too many people, myself included, are in so much of a rush to say something that we often interrupt others and don’t stay as focused as we should.
2. Show you are paying attention
When listening to other people you should show that you are paying attention by using good eye contact and acknowledge from time-to-time by smiling and encouraging the speaker to continue with small comments such as “yes” or “I see”, or prompts such as “tell me more”? Or “can you explain further?”
3. Summarize key points
While it is important not to interrupt, if you stay too quiet when listening, the other person might feel that you are not paying attention or do not fully understand their points. Therefore, when the speaker has finished you should summarize some of the key points made by the other person to acknowledge your understanding.
4. Dig deeper
An important aspect of active listening it to understand more deeply what is behind peoples’ words. In certain cultures, such as in Germany or Holland, what people say is what they mean. However, especially in Asia and even in the UK, what people say and what they mean are often two different things. When a British executive tells you that your idea is “interesting”, it can sometimes mean that they don’t like it!
5. Ask better questions
If you want to be a better quality listener you need to ask better questions. This could be follow-ups to dig a bit deeper and either understand the other person’s feelings, or to check you understand the other person correctly. It’s key to get a good balance between both open and closed questions. A common mistake people make when communicating is to use too many closed questions and risk making assumptions. Therefore, be sure to ask open questions and encourage the other person to explain in order to understand them more deeply.