Table of Contents
According to a recent Association for Training and Development poll, 71 percent of respondents indicated that listening is a critical skill area that is required for managerial success.
In another study conducted by the American Management Association, 59 percent of respondents say management does not listen to their concerns.
Other research studies indicate that only 12 percent of participants believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about them.
Many senior managers know that a lack of listening can affect their company’s bottom line. The good news is many companies are providing their managers with opportunities to develop necessary listening skills, especially active listening skills.
In this post, we will look at active listening, active listening techniques, and how to use these techniques to transform your career and your life.
What is active listening?
Active listening is a communication skill that entails not only hearing the words of another person but also understanding the meaning and intent behind them.
Active listening is also defined as listening on purpose (Wikipedia). It requires you to be an active participant in the communication process.
Why active listening is important for success
Active listening is essential for business success since it can help you achieve your personal and professional objectives. Whether you are leading a team, managing a project, negotiating a deal, delivering a presentation, teaching a class, or learning a new skill, active listening can help you communicate more clearly and effectively with others.
Active listening can benefit you in many ways. Here are some of the main benefits of active listening:
It enhances performance and productivity
Active listening can enhance your performance and productivity by helping you understand the needs and expectations of others.
If you are a manager, active listening can help you give constructive comments, encourage your staff, allocate responsibilities, handle disagreements, and foster teamwork. If you are a learner or a student, active listening can help you understand complicated concepts, retain information, ask pertinent questions, and apply your knowledge.
It boosts creativity and innovation
Active listening can boost creativity and innovation by introducing you to different ideas and viewpoints.
If you are a business executive, active listening can help you identify new opportunities, generate solutions, adapt to changes, and overcome challenges. If you are an adult learner, active listening can help you expand your horizons, explore new interests, develop new skills, and discover new possibilities.
It increases emotional intelligence and empathy
Active listening can increase your emotional intelligence and empathy by helping you recognize and respond to the feelings of others.
If you are a leader, active listening can help you build trust and rapport with your followers, inspire loyalty and commitment, influence positive behaviors, and create a supportive culture. If you are an adult learner, active listening can help you connect with peers and instructors, share your experiences and insights, receive and offer support, and create a conducive learning environment.
It reduces stress and anxiety
Active listening can help to reduce tension and anxiety by avoiding misconceptions and miscommunication.
If you are a negotiator, for example, you can use active listening to help you clarify expectations and goals, address concerns and objections, find common ground and mutual benefits, and reach win-win outcomes.
If you are a student or learner, you can use active listening techniques to clarify instructions and comments, communicate ideas and concerns, seek support when necessary, and avoid confusion and irritation.
Try these active listening techniques
And how should you listen? Here are some tips:
Be fully present and avoid distractions
This allows you to concentrate on what the speaker is saying. Being present involves listening and giving your full attention to the speaker. To do this technique effectively, put away your phone, ignore distractions, avoid daydreaming, and silence your internal chatter. Concentrate on your conversation partner and let everything else go away.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues
Non-verbal cues, such as eye contact, body language, and tone of voice can tell you a lot about the person. For instance, if they talk fast, they might be nervous or anxious. If they talk slowly, they might be tired or trying to carefully choose their words. When you are actively listening, your non-verbal behaviors are just as important.
So, use open, non-threatening body language, smile while listening, lean in, and nod at critical points. Pay attention to your facial expressions when active listening so that you don’t convey any type of negative response.
Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, but require more elaboration and explanation. When you ask open-ended questions, you gain more information and insight and clarify ambiguities and assumptions. More importantly, you also show that you are interested and curious.
For example, instead of asking “Did you like the presentation?”, you can ask “What did you like most about the presentation?” or “How do you think the presentation could be improved?”.
Paraphrase to confirm your understanding
Paraphrasing involves restating the speaker’s message in your own words and checking if you got it right. This technique can help you avoid misinterpretation and confusion, summarize the main points and key details, and demonstrate your comprehension and attention.
For example, if the speaker says “I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the work I have to do”, you can say “So you’re stressed out because you have too much to do?”.
Listen to understand
Do not listen with the intention of giving your opinion, advice, or solution, but rather with the intention of understanding the speaker’s perspective, experience, and feelings. When you listen to understand rather than to respond or judge, you avoid interrupting or jumping to conclusions, respect the speaker’s autonomy and dignity, and empathize with their situation and emotions.
For example, if the speaker says “I’m having trouble with my boss”, you can say “That sounds tough. How does that make you feel?” instead of “You should quit your job” or “Your boss is a jerk”.
Withhold advice unless asked for
Do not impose your values, beliefs, or preferences on the speaker, but rather accept them as they are and respect their choices and decisions. When you withhold judgment and advice unless asked for, you can avoid giving criticism or praise, showing bias or prejudice, and manipulation or coercion. Doing this also helps you create a safe and supportive space for the speaker to express themselves freely and honestly.
For example, if the speaker says “I’m thinking of going back to school”, you can say “That’s an interesting idea. What are your reasons for doing that?” instead of “That’s a great idea. You should do it” or “That’s a bad idea. You shouldn’t do it”.
How to improve active listening techniques
You can improve your active listening techniques by approaching conversations with greater intentionality. Here are some practical tips to improve your active listening skills:
Practice active listening regularly
The more you practice active listening techniques, the more natural and effortless they will become. You can practice them with friends, family, coworkers, or anyone you interact with. You can also practice them listening in different situations or events, such as meetings, classes, social events, interviews, or presentations.
Be aware of your biases
Your biases and assumptions can distort your perception and understanding of other people. To avoid this, you need to be aware of your own biases and assumptions, and you need to challenge them when necessary.
When you are practicing active listening, you need to be open-minded and curious. These two qualities allow you to listen without judgment or prejudice, and to learn from others’ perspectives and experiences. To be open-minded and curious, you need to have a growth mindset, which means that you believe that you can always learn something new and that you value feedback and challenges as opportunities for growth.
Ask for feedback
You should ask for feedback when you are practicing your listening skills. Feedback can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as a listener, and help you set goals and strategies to improve your listening skills. Seek feedback from people you trust, such as your mentors, peers, managers, or instructors. You can also ask for feedback from people you have listened to, such as your employees, clients, colleagues, or students.
Active listening is a valuable communication skill that can benefit you in many ways. It involves using various techniques to show interest, empathy, and understanding to the speaker. It can be demonstrated through various examples in a business or learning context. It can be improved through practice, feedback, awareness, and openness.
By learning and practicing active listening techniques, you can enhance your career and life in many ways. You can communicate more clearly and effectively with others, achieve your personal and professional goals, boost your creativity and innovation, increase your emotional intelligence and empathy, and reduce your stress and anxiety.
Start practicing active listening today, and see the difference it makes in your career and your life!
- Jalongo, M. R. “Promoting Active Listening in the Classroom.” Childhood Education, vol. 72, no. 1, 1995, pp. 13-18.
- Nichols, M. P. & Strauss, M. The Lost Art of Listening. Guilford Publications, 2021.
- Robinson, M. C. Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone Your Communication Skills. Rockridge Press, 2019.
- Shafir, R. Z. The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction. Quest Books, 2003.
- Sorensen, M. S. I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships. Autumn Creek Press, 2017.
- Weger, H. J., Castle, G. R., Emmett, M. C. “Active Listening in Peer Interviews: The Influence of Message Paraphrasing on Perceptions of Listening Skill.” International Journal of Listening, vol. 24, no. 1, 2010, pp. 34-49.