Active listening is the foundation of effective communication. It allows us to better understand and influence people in a wide range of situations. To become a good listener, you need to practice effective listening skills. Here are five key skills for successful active listening.
Skill 1. Show that you are interested
Demonstrating that you are listening and giving your individual attention to the speaker is a necessity. You can do it using your body language. Maintain eye contact with the speaker even if they are not looking at you; encourage the speaker by smiling and nodding your head; lean slightly forward and keep a relaxed open posture; mirror facial expressions of the speaker, especially in emotional situations, to show empathy. You need to do it naturally, so do take the time to train on these nonverbal listening skills.
Skill 2. Focus on the speaker
Concentration and self-awareness are essential active listening skills. You cannot afford to be bored or distracted because your goal is to obtain as much information as possible from the speaker’s words and behavior. To stay focused, don’t argue and don’t criticize the speaker, even in your mind, make notes if the speech is long and put aside any thoughts not related to the speaker and their topic.
Skill 3. Be empathetic
Active listening is not only about words, it is also about feelings and attitudes. When paying attention to the speaker’s body language — posture, gestures and facial expressions, it is essential to understand their emotional state. A good listener can be empathetic, which facilitates communication and creates a favorable atmosphere. To develop empathy, you can do the following listening exercise: watch a video of a talking person without sound and try to guess what they are talking about and what they are feeling: sadness, joy, enthusiasm or other emotions.
Skill 4. Confirm that you are listening
Use verbal techniques to let the speaker know that you are following them: ask relevant questions that clarify and ensure understanding, summarize what has been said, reflect the speaker’s ideas by paraphrasing, so that the speaker can make corrections if necessary. Don’t interrupt the speaker and give your feedback only when they pause. Asking questions is a powerful skill to demonstrate your interest and comprehend the message. Active listening exercises, such as role playing and dialogue, allow us to practice this skill.
Skill 5. Use positive reinforcement
In order to feel safe and comfortable, the speaker needs to know that you accept them. It means that you cannot show any signs of judgement or disapproval. Don’t offer your solutions if you are not asked to do so. It also means the avoidance of interrupting or jumping in with a different topic. Follow the direction of the speaker and give feedback thoughtfully and respectfully.
Practice active listening in every conversation and notice how your communication becomes more effective and powerful.