Active listening is a positive, attentive and genuine form of listening that ensures you are fully engaged when another person is speaking. Active listening is a really useful tool for building consensus in groups, because it allows people to get to the bottom of how they and others really feel on a topic – and often people share similar feelings. When we practice active listening, we help the other people in the conversation feel heard, valued and respected. In this way, active listening is our foundation for meaningful conversation.
Active listening is not just being silent while someone else speaks. When you practice active listening, you are fully concentrating on what is being said, and giving the speaker your full attention. While you are actively listening, you should be:
- Nonjudgmental, reacting to what they say in a considerate and positive way.
- Patient, allowing the speaker to pause to think and finish speaking.
- Expressing that you are listening with your body language.
- Asking clarifying questions (when appropriate).
In this way, active listening is the opposite of passive hearing. Rather than jumping in with your own ideas or opinions, make sure you always recognise and respond to the contributions others are making.
Active listening helps us gain the trust of others and come to understand differing points of view. We can have greater empathy for the speaker, comprehend what they are trying to communicate, and create a supportive environment for discussion. It is very different to “critical listening”, which is evaluating the message of the other person in relation to your own views and opinions. Our objective should be simply for the other person to be heard, and authentically responded to.
Here are some quick tips for being a better active listener:
- While listening, shut down your internal dialogue.
- Show that you are giving the speaker your full attention.
- Never prepare your reply while the other person is speaking.
- Pauses and short periods of silence should be accepted.
- Make eye contact while the other person speaks.
- Don’t rush the speaker or interrupt them.
- Avoid reacting to superficial details when you respond.
- Turn your phone to silent and refrain from checking it during the conversation.
- Think about your posture. Remember to nod in agreement, and lean in to listen closely.
- Avoid negative body language, such as folding your arms or yawning.
- When appropriate, ask clarifying question if you don’t understand something.
- Smile! It’s a small thing, but very reassuring and friendly for a nervous speaker.