ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS

The active listening skillset involves these 6 active listening skills:

Pay attention

One goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone that gives the other person an opportunity to think and speak. Allow “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut the other person off, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they’ve finished. Pay attention to your body language as well as your frame of mind. Be focused on the moment and operate from a place of respect.

Withhold judgment

Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid arguing or selling their point right away.

Reflect

Don’t assume that you understand the person correctly or that they know you’ve heard them. Mirror the person’s information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points. Reflecting is a way to indicate that you and your counterpart are on the same page.

For example, your counterpart might tell you, “Saroja is so loyal and supportive of her people — they’d walk through fire for her. But no matter how much I push, her team keeps missing deadlines.”

To paraphrase, you could say, “So Saroja’s people skills are great, but accountability is a problem.”

If you hear, “I don’t know what else to do!” or “I’m tired of bailing the team out at the last minute,” try helping the person label his or her feelings: “Sounds like you’re feeling pretty frustrated and stuck.”

Clarify

Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that is ambiguous or unclear. If you have doubt or confusion about what the person has said, say something like, “Let me see if I’m clear. Are you talking about …?” or “Wait a minute. I didn’t follow you.”

Open-ended, clarifying, and probing questions are important tools that encourage the person to do the work of self-reflection and problem solving, rather than justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the “right answer.”

Examples include: “What do you think about …?” or “Tell me about …?” and “Will you further explain/describe …?” The emphasis is on asking rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration.

You might say: “What are some of the specific things you’ve tried?” or “Have you asked the team what their main concerns are?” or “Does Emma agree that there are performance problems?” and “How certain are you that you have the full picture of what’s going on?”

Summarize

Restating key themes as the conversation proceeds confirms and solidifies your grasp of the other person’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up. Briefly summarize what you have understood as you listened, and ask the other person to do the same.

Giving a brief restatement of core themes raised by the person might sound like: “Let me summarize to check my understanding. Saroja was promoted to manager and her team loves her. But you don’t believe she holds them accountable, so mistakes are accepted and keep happening. You’ve tried everything you can think of and there’s no apparent impact. Did I get that right?”. Restating key themes helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up.

Share

Active listening is first about understanding the other person, then about being understood. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can begin to introduce your ideas, feelings, and suggestions. You might talk about a similar experience you had or share an idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation.

Once the situation has been talked through in this way, both you and the person have a good picture of where things stand. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem solving. What hasn’t been tried? What don’t we know? What new approaches could be taken?

We can continue to query, guide, and offer, but mustn’t dictate a solution. The person will feel more confident and eager if they think through the options and own the solution.

How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Many people take their listening skills for granted. We often assume it’s clear that we’re listening and that others know they are being heard. But the reality is that we often struggle with tasks and roles that directly relate to listening. Accepting criticism well, dealing with people’s feelings, and trying to understand what others think all require strong active listening skills.

Even with the best of intentions, you may actually be unconsciously sending signals that you aren’t listening at all. You may need to brush up on your listening skills if any of the following questions describe you. Do you sometimes:

a) Have a hard time concentrating on what is being said?

b) Think about what to say next, rather than about what the speaker is saying?

c) Dislike it when someone questions your ideas or actions?

d) Give advice too soon and suggest solutions to problems before the other person has fully explained his or her perspective?

e) Tell people not to feel the way they do?

f) Talk significantly more than the other person talks?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. To boost your listening skills and put your active listening skillset into practice, try these helpful tips:

Content Curated By: Dr Shoury Kuttappa

Complex quantitative concepts translated into easily understood life and business implications.