“I’m sorry… Can you repeat the question?”
To land your dream job, you need to use everything in your arsenal. Good communication is a must-have in almost every role, so how can you strengthen yours? Improving your active listening skills may be the key to unlocking this problem. Learning how to not only hear but also fully understand what someone else is telling you is an invaluable gift.
Collaborating with your team will become effortless once you know how to use the most common active listening techniques. Here at Resume.io, we have everything you need to supercharge your career. Within the following guide, we will be looking at these topics:
- What active listening is — definition and examples
- The best active listening techniques and how to use each of them
- Studies and expert tips on how to become a better listener
- Examples of active listening and responses you can use at work.
What is active listening?
First up, let’s define active listening. Put simply, it is giving others your full attention when they are speaking and ensuring you understand what they have to say. That means not interrupting while they are talking and asking appropriate questions when they are done.
While that may sound simple, many of us don’t do it. Think about it. When someone else is speaking, do you listen and take in what they have to say? Or, on the other hand, are you just waiting for your turn to speak? If you’re guilty of the latter, you need to switch it up.
Think hearing and listening are the same things? Think again.
Different neurons in your brain are activated when you hear a sound as opposed to when you are listening to it, according to research from the University of Basel. The 2019 study suggests that active listening takes place in a specific part of the brain.
The best active listening techniques to learn
Improving your listening style doesn’t have to be difficult. Now that we’ve covered the main active listening definition, it’s worth looking at the techniques you can use. The good news is that you don’t have to entirely revamp your communication approach. Instead, you should work on becoming more attentive and self-aware during typical conversations.
Be Mindful of Spacing Out
Does your mind wander when you’re having a conversation? If so, bring yourself back to reality by mentally repeating some of the words the other person says. This simple approach won’t give your brain any space to start thinking about other things.
Author Pamela Trevithick notes the core active listening skills in her practical handbook. While the book is intended for trainee social workers, the techniques are applicable to all careers in which you work with others. Let’s take a look at 11 approaches toward improving active listening skills:
Be as empathetic and self-aware as possible
When you’re speaking to another person, it’s important to have a high level of self-awareness. That means understanding your own emotions and how you are coming across to the other person. Try to listen to and understand their point of view.
Maintain good eye contact
If your eyes are wandering around the room, the other person will think you’re disengaged. While they are speaking to you, maintain good eye contact at all times. This is one of the easiest active listening techniques and it’s so simple to learn.
Have an open and attentive body orientation
Are you turning your back on the speaker? Are your arms folded? When you put up literal barriers between you and the other person, it can hinder your communication. One of the best active listening skills you will learn is positioning yourself toward the speaker.
Pay attention to any nonverbal cues
What is the speaker saying without words? More than 50 percent of communication is nonverbal — so it pays to look for these subtle signs. That means looking at the other person’s body language and paying attention to the gaps in speaking. When you become a good active listener, you will be attuned to all of these hints and know how to read them.
Use silence as a form of communication
Do you rush to fill gaps in conversation? If you’re all too eager to speak, you might want to slow down. Often enough, silence speaks for itself. When the speaker takes a quick break or you need a second to think, allow that to happen naturally.
Be aware of your distracting mannerisms
We all have things we do unconsciously while we’re speaking. For example, you might gesticulate wildly or tap your feet when you’re deep in conversation. Whatever your habits may be, you should be aware of them. While that doesn’t mean you need to be perfectly still during conversations, you should aim to lessen the impact of these mannerisms.
Allowing people to speak in their own time
It’s awkward when people stumble over their words. When the other person doesn’t know where to start, the last thing you should do is jump in to save them. Interrupting someone with what you think they are going to say is a bad move. It cuts the speaker short. Instead, give them the time and space to figure out what they want to say. Patience is a virtue.
Minimize interruptions and distractions
Is your phone buzzing on the table? Do your eyes flit to your computer screen? If there are distractions all around you, chances are you’re not fully listening to the other person. Before you start a conversation, make sure you limit the number of distractions in the area.
Remember the importance of tone
Whenever you’re speaking to another person, you need to pay attention to tone — both theirs and yours. If you listen carefully, you can notice slight changes in a person’s voice when they are happy, upset, or neutral. Tuning into this will help you understand them.
Try to be both natural and relaxed
You might be so eager to get your point across that you speak over people. You may feel excited and want to share all of your ideas. Hold onto your horses. One of the most effective active listening techniques is to be relaxed and natural. Before you start a conversation, make sure your head is in the right place. Deeply breathe in and then out.
Seek feedback wherever possible
So, there’s a natural gap in the conversation — what happens next? If you need something to be clarified or want more information, now is the time to ask for it. Show that you have listened to what the speaker has said and ask your follow-up questions now.
Active listening skills and response examples
To kickstart your active listening journey, you need to hone your active listening skills. (Hint: You can also put these on your resume to show employers you’re a good communicator!) With that in mind, here are some of the skills you start to strengthen:
- Compassion and empathy
- Emotional intelligence
- Critical thinking
- Situational awareness
- Attention to detail
- Keen focus
At times, it can be hard to know what to say. While your responses should be spontaneous and suit the situation, it’s helpful to see some examples. When you are actively listening, show the speaker that you have understood them. Here are some phrases you may use:
- “It sounds like you are saying [insert explanation]. Am I understanding you?”
- “I understand the situation. Now, what can I do to help?”
- “That sounds like a challenge. Have you tried [insert some advice]?”
- “That makes perfect sense. Can you tell me more about [the problem]?”
- “I can see that you are upset about this problem. How can I help you solve it?”
- “I want to understand the situation better. Can you please tell me more?”
Now, you might not want to repeat these examples verbatim. However, using open-ended sentences like the above will help you get the speaker to elaborate on the situation. When you’re in a workplace scenario, the better you can understand your coworkers, the easier it will be to work towards a shared goal. Consider using this technique in your next meeting.
- Active listening will improve your workplace communication style.
- Hearing and listening are not the same things — they activate different parts of the brain.
- You can strengthen your active listening skills by practicing them in the workplace.
- Try using some of our active listening responses and see how they work for you.