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Active listening is an important skill in life and in leadership. Your listening skills impact every aspect of your life, including how well you do your job or the quality of your personal relationships. If you are serious about trying to maximize your success, then you have to be just as serious about becoming a strong communicator. Although good communication skills include the ability to share ideas through speaking and/ or writing, listening is a key essential component of good communication.
Here are a few tried and true techniques that can help you become a better, active listener:
1. Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention. Turn your body toward them and maintain eye contact. In addition to listening to the words being spoken to you, pay attention to what is said through the nonverbal communication as well. Watch for the person’s body language and gestures, to really understand the message being conveyed.
In order to pay full attention, you must put aside any distracting thoughts. Do not use the speaker’s speaking turn to prepare your response. If you are spending the time thinking about what you will say next, you are probably missing out on a great deal of what is being said now.
2. Demonstrate your attentiveness. Give the speaker some cues to show that you are actually listening to them. Confirm that you are listening by using visual cues through your own gestures and body language.
A quick and easy way to communicate that they have your attention is to make frequent eye contact and nod when it is appropriate. This action shows your general agreement and makes it clear that you are fully engaged in what the speaker is saying. Smiling, laughing and other appropriate expressions are clear signals that will let the other person know that you really are hearing what is being said.
3. Respond to their message. Maintain a welcoming and open posture to show that you are receptive to what the speaker has to say. This might include things like facing the speaker, leaning toward them, and staying alert. Short interjections like “uh-huh” or “yes” encourage them to tell you more of their “story.”
To make it clear that you are actively engaged in the conversation, you may want to periodically summarize what has been said. Paraphrasing can be particularly useful when someone is sharing personal their feelings with you. This way you can be sure that you have a clear understanding.
Also, ask questions to clarify points that you may not understand fully.
4. Do not interrupt! Always be sure to allow the speaker to complete their thoughts. Interrupting someone is both rude and disconcerting. It also prevents you from hearing the full message.
When the speaker has finished, respond accordingly and appropriately, offering your ideas and opinions in response to what has been said. While you may not always agree with others, you must always be respectful.
5. Focus. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying. If you are not accustomed to focusing intently on the words being said, it may take some time to break your old habits and make new ones. As with anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will become.
Repeat the words of the speaker in your mind to help your mind focus on the meaning and keep it from drifting off.
You will be genuinely surprised at how differently you will begin to hear almost everything as an active listener. If you follow these tips, you will not only be on the road to becoming a better active listener, but a better communicator as well.