How to Develop Your Active Listening Skills
Active listening requires you to concentrate on what is being said. It’s more than just hearing the words. It involves a concerted effort to understand and interpret the speaker’s message. Steps in Practicing Skill:
- Make eye contact: How do you feel when somebody doesn’t look at you when you’re speaking? If you’re like most people, you’re likely to interpret this behavior as aloofness or disinterest. Making eye contact with the speaker focuses your atten tion, reduces the likelihood that you will become distracted, and encourages the speaker.
- Exhibit affirmative nods and appropriate facial expressions: The effective listener shows interest in what is being said through nonverbal signals. Affirmative nods and appropriate facial expressions, when added to good eye contact, convey to the speaker that you’re listening.
- Avoid distracting actions or gestures that suggest boredom: In addition to showing interest, you must avoid actions that suggest that your mind is somewhere else. When listening, don’t look at your watch, shuffle papers, play with your pencil, or engage in similar distractions. They make the speaker feel that you’re bored or disinterested or indicate that you aren’t fully attentive.
- Ask questions: The critical listener analyzes what he or she hears and asks questions. This behavior provides clarification, ensures understanding, and assures the speaker that you’re listening.
- Paraphrase using your own words: The effective listener uses phrases such as “What I hear you saying is” or “Do you mean…?” Paraphrasing is an excellent control device to check whether you’re listening carefully and to verify that what you heard is accurate.
- Avoid interrupting the speaker: Let the speaker complete his or her thought before you try to respond. Don’t try to second-guess where the speaker’s thoughts are going. When the speaker is finished, you’ll know it.
- Don’t overtalk: Most of us would rather express our own ideas than listen to what someone else says, Talking might be more fun and silence might be uncomfortable, but you can’t talk and listen at the same time. The good listener recognizes this fact and doesn’t overtalk.
- Make smooth transitions between the roles of speaker and listener: The effective listener makes transitions smoothly from speaker to listener and back to the speaker. From a listening perspective, this means concentrating on what a speaker has to say and practicing not thinking about what you’re going to say as soon as you get your chance.
Practicing the Skill
Ask a friend to tell you about his or her day and listen without interrupting. When your friend has finished speaking, ask two or three questions if needed to obtain more clarity and detail. Listen carefully to the answers. Now summarize your friend’s day in no more than five sentences. How well did you do? Let your friend rate the accuracy of your paraphrase (and try not to interrupt)