Updated: Dec 6, 2019
On a scale of 1 to 10, how good of a listener are you? I'm not talking about your comprehension of the English language while listening, but rather your ability to focus on and be mentally present while another is speaking.
Be honest. Think back on your most recent conversation. Did you interrupt the speaker a few times, complete his or her sentence, or let your mind consider what you would say in response while the other person was still talking? If not, that's terrific because you are already at an advantage.
But if you're not a particularly good listener, thankfully it's a skill that you can improve. And, it's the key to having powerful relationships in and outside of business.
Why? Because everyone once to feel truly heard; it's human nature. So, if you can learn to be a good listener, people will be attracted to you and seek you out for your listening skills. And, it all starts with something called active listening.
What is Active Listening?
Before I answer that, what do you already know about active listening? Maybe you've heard the term before or have a good guess as to what it means. What do you think of when you hear the term active?
According to www.verywellmind.com, active listening "refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way. It is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgment and advice."
Why is Active Listening Important?
After reading the definition, what are your first thoughts about active listening? Can you intuitively see how this way of listening might lead to more positive interactions with others? Instead of focusing on ourselves and what WE will say, we turn our attention to the other person.
This switch in focus is the first step to better understanding your business partners and colleagues and their perspective on a situation. And, when you really understand where your partner is coming from, the dialog that will follow will be more productive and effective.
In fact, think of the power of two people practicing active listening! If it is something that you are willing to try, let's look at 5 ways you can start today:
5 Steps to Becoming an Active Listener:
1. You are focused solely on the other person and what he or she is saying.
This means that you set aside your own internal dialog and fully listen to your conversation partner. This is actually harder than it sounds, in my opinion. It requires setting an intention at the beginning of the conversation: I will focus on this person and only this person because he or she is important.
2. When your mind starts to wander, you note it and focus again on what the other person is saying.
It's natural for our minds to lose focus; it can be difficult to give someone 100% of our attention. But when you start to lose focus, bring your attention back to the person without judgment.
3. You avoid completing the other person's sentences or interrupting.
This is a habit that many of us don't realize we have: we complete our conversation partner's sentences or interrupt him or her while they are talking. There are many underlying reasons why we might do this. Maybe we want to have more control of the conversation, maybe we want to demonstrate to the other person that we are smart and knowledgeable, or maybe we are trying to show we understand.
But when we interrupt, we are taking the focus AWAY from the other person. And, active listening requires that we concentrate on the other person's message and not our own. You will have time to share your thoughts after you have fully heard what has been said.
4. After he or she has spoken, you attempt to paraphrase what the person said in order to make sure you understood.
Maybe you remember learning to paraphrase in college when you had to write a research paper. To paraphrase in the context of a conversation is to restate what the other person said using your own words in order to confirm that you understood the meaning. It gives you a chance to clarify the message and helps to ensure that you and the other person are on the same page.
5. You refrain from judging the other person's comments or offering advice.
Active listening requires that you put judgments aside. Instead you become a listener that is free from bias during the course of the conversation. This takes setting an intention and being deliberate about your thoughts. When you start to feel judgment, note it and focus again on the person's message.
Becoming an active listener takes practice, but you have to start somewhere. If you had to choose one of these to focus on during your next conversation, which one would you choose? Please let me know in the comments below.