7 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills [With Examples]
The art of listening is best embodied in active listening.
Think about it. Do you want to just talk, or do you also want to be understood?
Probably it’s the latter.
Everybody wants to be understood. However, that’s not feasible without active listening.
More than verbal communication, active listening is what makes or breaks a conversation - be it professional or personal. So you better give this soft skill its due attention.
Want to learn how?
Read on and you’ll find out:
- What Is Active Listening?
- 7 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Technique
- Benefits of Active Listening
- Active Listening in Practice - 5 Examples
- 10 Active Listening Skills
What Is Active Listening?
So, what exactly is active listening?
Active listening is the process of listening to the speaker mindfully, providing feedback, observing their body language and other non-verbal cues, and being empathetic towards their emotions to ensure effective communication.
The three As of active listening summarize this concept. They stand for:
- Attitude, which is about how you approach the speaker. To be an active listener, you should keep an open mind and a positive attitude - even if you don’t agree with what is being said.
- Attention, which is about focusing on the conversation and ignoring distractions. Removing external triggers (like your phone) is not enough - especially if you have a short attention span or tend to daydream. To pay attention, you have to be physically AND mentally there.
- Adjustment, which is about adapting to the speaker and to where the conversation is going. To do this, you shouldn’t assume what’s being said or steer the conversation towards a specific topic - instead, you should go with the (speaker’s) flow.
A lot of people have a short attention span. If you find it hard to stay focused when someone is speaking, try to sharpen your attention skills by reading, playing memory games, or even meditating.
7 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Technique
Studies confirm that most people are inefficient listeners, although 45% of the time we spend communicating, we are listening (as opposed to the 30% we spend talking).
However, according to a famous study on listening done by Richard Hunsaker, about 75% of the time we are listening, we are actually distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful.
But there are ways to fix that. Although active listening is a skill that takes time and patience, its upside is that you have tons of chances to practice it in your daily life.
So, try following these tips whenever someone is talking and we guarantee you’ll be an active listener in no time.
Tips to Become an Active Listener:
- Pay attention: As we mentioned, being attentive is a key component of active listening. Besides avoiding distracting thoughts and external triggers (such as side conversations, phone notifications, etc), you should also show that you’re paying attention through your body language and verbal confirmations.
- Ask open-ended questions: Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. By getting the speaker to elaborate, you can acquire more information (including their feelings and attitudes).
- Request clarification: Clarification involves periodically asking questions to make sure you are understanding the speaker correctly. By doing so, they also get a chance to expand on certain points.
- Paraphrase: Instead of offering your opinion, or steering the conversation in another direction, interact with the speaker by paraphrasing their points. Frequently paraphrasing helps the communication process by keeping the conversation on track. A way to do this is by using expressions like “so what you’re saying is that…” or “what you mean by this is…?”
- Ask probing questions: Just like open-ended questions, probing questions aim to get into the deep end of a topic. Additionally, they don’t just help you understand better, but also aid the speaker to think more deeply about what they’re saying.
- Summarize: Providing the speaker with a summary of their main points is a way to repeat what has been said using your words. This is another great way to keep your assumptions, judgments, and beliefs from distorting the message.
- Be attuned to the speaker’s feelings: Learning how to be empathetic can be tough. However, it’s not impossible. Try, for example, to notice non-verbal cues, ask people how they feel in addition to what they think, and try to understand the reasons behind someone’s behavior. Empathy will soon become a habit!
Benefits of Active Listening
It should be clear by now that effective communication cannot take place without active listening.
And since communication is the foundation of human relationships, active listening is a beneficial skill for any situation - be it social, professional, and personal.
- Socially, active listening helps you build genuine connections with people. By respecting the speaker, keeping an open mind, and empathizing, you can gain the trust of those you know and make friends with those you don’t.
- Professionally, active listening is a skill that enhances communication in the workplace. It allows you to bond with your team, allowing for better collaboration, which leads to higher productivity. Moreover, active listening means that you’ll be able to better understand problems that arise in the workplace, allowing you to come up with better solutions.
- Personally, active listening is a tool for self-empowerment. Speaking less and listening more can make you more knowledgeable, tolerant, and patient. Additionally, it improves your empathy and ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Active Listening in Practice - 5 Examples
We know that, sometimes, things are much easier said than done.
So, it’s totally normal if you’re wondering exactly how you’re supposed to request clarification, ask probing questions, or summarize the speaker’s points to be an active listener.
Worry not - we’ve got your back.
Check out some examples of how active listening works in practice.
#1. Requesting Clarification
Let’s assume you’re at a job interview.
Besides having to showcase your strengths as a candidate, you also want to make sure you understand exactly what they ask and tell you - that way, you manage your expectations and avoid any misunderstandings.
For example, recruiters might ask if you’d be willing to first work for the company part-time. At the sound of “work for the company,” your initial instinct might be to straight-out accept - no questions asked.
This, however, is the kind of situation where you’d want to request clarification. You could go at it as follows:
“Working part-time for your company sounds like an amazing opportunity. However, could you tell me exactly what it involves in terms of responsibilities, schedule, and salary?”
Want to be prepared for any question recruiters might throw at you? Check out this list of 35+ interview questions and answers and you’ll never be caught off guard.
Paraphrasing is a form of providing feedback that helps the speaker stay on track and ensures you understand what is being said.
Has your boss ever just popped up and gave you a quick “hey, can you fill out all the data by tonight?” Their intention might be to assign you a task, but you might miss out exactly what that task is.
Paraphrasing comes in handy in such situations. When you reaffirm what someone is saying in your own words, you don’t miss out on any essential information and double-check whether you understood them right.
So, what you’re saying is that you’d like me to enter all last year’s data into the administrative software?
#3. Asking Open-Ended/Probing Questions
Open-ended questions are those you cannot answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” The reason they matter in the process of active listening is that they encourage the speaker to elaborate on their answer and thus offer more chances for communication to flow between you.
Assume a friend tells you they just got fired. Asking them whether they’re upset over it is so obvious you might as well say nothing. Instead, you want your friend to open up and feel understood and heard.
This is how an open-ended question would be more helpful to the situation:
Did something happen that may have led to this?
#4. Showing Empathy
Empathy is not about telling someone not to be upset or sharing similar experiences to make them feel better. Sometimes, it’s not even about offering a solution to a problem.
Being empathetic frequently involves just being there for someone and understanding they may need to rant, complain, or just talk to somebody. By letting them know that you empathize with them, the speaker will feel comforted and will come to trust you more.
This is how you can show empathy:
I can only imagine how you must be feeling right now. I hope you know that I am here for you.
Just like paraphrasing, summarizing can be a great way to ensure that you’re understanding exactly what the speaker is saying.
Instead of using your own words, though, you can keep mental notes of the most important points (according to you) and check whether that’s what the speaker meant.
Let’s assume your friend is passionately telling you a story from work. You could say the following during a brief pause:
Let me see if I got this straight. You first tried to talk it out with your boss, then sent him an email, but ultimately ended up confronting him during the meeting?
10 Soft Skills Associated With Active Listening
Active listening falls under the umbrella of communication skills and interpersonal skills. That’s because they all involve your ability to get along with people, connect with them, and understand where they’re coming from.
Take, for example, open-mindedness. You need an open mind if you are to engage in active listening. Otherwise, your biases and personal judgments may keep you from succeeding at it.
That’s because your mindset and personal beliefs would reject any opinion the speaker might have that opposes yours.
These are some additional soft skills associated with active listening:
- Emotional intelligence
- Nonverbal communication
- Feedback (taking and giving it)
By now, you should have a much clearer understanding of what it takes to be an active listener.
Before you start practicing, let’s go over some of the main points we covered:
- Active listening is the process of listening to the speaker mindfully, providing feedback, observing their body language, and being empathetic towards their emotions.
- The three As of active listening are attitude, attention, and adjustment.
- There are things you can do to improve your active listening skills. They include removing distractions, asking open-ended and probing questions, paraphrasing or summarizing, requesting clarifications, and empathizing.
- Active listening belongs to a wider category of communication skills and interpersonal skills. For this reason, it is associated with other soft skills such as empathy, tolerance, open-mindedness, positivity, and more.