Active Listening Skills: Definition, How to Improve Active Listening

Do you remember ever being in a lecture, hearing your teacher explain something about a topic, and yet, feeling like you didn’t take anything from it at the end of the lesson? Or do you remember ever being in conversation with someone and, shortly after, not being able to recall the details of what the person told you? 

That’s because you weren’t listening actively.

Active listening is a technique that consists of making a conscious effort to stay present enough to listen attentively to a message, retain valuable details of it, reflect on it and respond to it from a place of genuine understanding

Active Listening is one of the top 15 interpersonal skills all leaders should master, more on that in our other article on this site. Now, let’s learn more about how to practice active listening and improve your overall communication skills.

Define Interpersonal Skills
Define Interpersonal Skills

7 Tips on How To Practice Active Listening 

If you want to master this technique and use it effectively, there’s a list of practices that you should consider trying. Namely: 

1. Pay Attention To The Message

The first key to active listening practice is the deliberate effort to pay attention to what is being said and focus on the message beyond the word choice. If you can master this step, you’re well on your way to learning active listening. 

2. Stop Yourself From Making Judgments

Most times, we listen to respond or judge what’s being said. Although analyzing what we hear and forming an opinion about it is essential, passing judgment is mostly a barrier to proper understanding. 

By winning the urge to engage in your thoughts about what you hear, you will allow yourself to listen from a neutral point, expanding, therefore, your perspective. 

3. Show That You’re Present in Mind and Body and Give Feedback 

Although you should make sure you don’t waste a ton of time affirming that you’re listening and trying to seem present, providing feedback through your body language and verbal affirmations is essential in active listening. 

Yet, make sure you’re truthful when doing it. 

Nodding with your head affirmatively or saying that you understand it will not serve you much if it’s not true. These things are helpful to reassure the speaker that you are listening but only when you’re actually taking in the message. 

4. Reflect on What is Being Said 

This point might seem contradictory since I’ve told you to refrain from passing judgment, yet, as I said before, there’s a difference between reflecting and passing judgment. 

A reflection is an analysis with the intention of deep understanding, while passing judgment is exterior and a mechanism that anticipates a response or reaction. 

With that being said, do make sure you reflect on what you listened to, as that gives you better chances of being on the same thought level as the speaker. 

5. Take Notes and Ask Questions

Take notes, as you listen, of the central and most essential points of the message. For unclear points or those you haven’t entirely understood, pose questions that will help you clarify them.

Be mindful not to interrupt the speaker, though. If possible, write down your questions and ask them once the speaker is done talking and once he has given you the space for it. 

6. Summarize The Overall Message

This point is mainly used in written communication, yet you can also apply it to live verbal communication. 

After listening and posing questions, quickly go through the main points of the message with the speaker, confirming if your understanding matches the message that he intended to transmit. That way, if there are any hiccups or any points to be understood, you can revise them and clarify them.

7. Share Your Insight on The Topic

Finally, after you’ve correctly understood the message, you can share your insight on it. That’s your chance to let the speaker know what you think, and it’s an excellent opportunity to use the notes (whether written or mental) that you took while you listened. 

Practicing these techniques will help you become better at active listening. But, if you want to become a better listener, you will need to undergo a profound transformation of character and gain skills that might have seemed irrelevant to you in the past and yet will make active listening practice more natural to you.

Active Listening
Imagem de Gerd Altmann por Pixabay

How Active Listening Skills Improve Communication

Developing your active listening skills is a key step in the journey to improve your overall communication skills, because it trains patience, openness, empathy, attention to detail, self-reflection, and sit builds confidence. By actively listening, you are a more engaging conversationalist, and you learn enough to confidently address the topic at hand.

In order to become a great conversationalist and developing top notch active listening skills, here’s a list of interpersonal skills that you should sharpen to become the best listener: 

1. Patience

As it will take a lot of it to listen through without interrupting, passing judgment, or engaging in your thought monolog when you should be paying attention. 

2. Openness 

To hear different opinions, and to accept constructive criticism. You’ll need to develop a tolerance for diverse views, new perspectives, and new ways of looking at things, as active listening implies being subject to them. 

3. Curiosity

Since it is one of the main things that will keep you engaged when listening without responding. It will also drive you to pay attention to missing details that you need to clarify to understand the message. 

4. Mindfulness

As that will train you and teach you how to stay present through the conversation. 

5. Self-awareness

In healthy amounts. That helps with controlling the primal urge to react before fully listening. Yet, be careful not to be too self-aware to the point of dissociating from the moment and the dialogue. Balance this with mindfulness as much as possible to avoid being too “in your head” as you listen.

6. Attention to Detail

Because just like curiosity, it will help you identify small pieces of the message that are missing or need clarification. From another perspective, this skill will also help you retain the most from the message, from big things to minor details. 

7. Ability to Reflect and Use Reason 

Since reflection is a vast, significant part of active listening, and reason is the key to logically looking at and thinking of what’s being said. This duo will ensure that you follow the speaker’s  train of thought and truly understand the message.

8. Calmness

Because just like patience, it will help you fight the urge to respond and react, especially when you have to listen to criticism or something unpleasant. This skill will also help make people comfortable speaking and, most importantly, sharing their thoughts and opinions with you.

9. Good Observational Skills and Problem Sensitivity 

They help you catch nonverbal cues from the speaker and help you respond in a way that appeases the situation when you have to deal with stressful and problematic situations. 

10. Emotional Intelligence 

As it helps you maintain your posture and your objectivity when listening. 

11. Courtesy

Because this value is what will motivate you to listen without interrupting and to consider other people’s feelings before responding, regardless of the content of the message you had to listen to. 

12. Humility

Because people who lack this trait will have a more challenging time putting their pride and ego aside to listen, especially when the message is unpleasant to them or attacking their character in any way.

13. Proactivity

Because it will help you come up with solutions and ideas that will help and benefit the speaker, proving that you were listening actively. 

14. Empathy 

So that you can put yourself in other people’s shoes and can more effectively connect with the speaker and what you’ve been told. 

15. Confidence (Speaking)

To talk with empowerment when the time comes, regardless of the message you just listened to, especially when that message is somehow derogatory or questioning your character. 

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5 Examples of Active Listening 

The most common examples of active listening can be organized in a group of techniques that you can use in different contexts. 

Building Rapport

Consists of establishing trust with the person you’re talking to, making them comfortable with you, and building affinity. It can be done either by offering help, making a compliment, or even a positive observation.

Demonstrating Concern

It’s all about showing that you care and offering yourself to be of service if necessary. Something as simple as “I remember you were dealing with stress because of…. How’s that situation now? Did things get better?”

Paraphrasing

This technique is very effective for both demonstrating that you’re listening and retaining information since, by paraphrasing, you’re repeating the information that you were given. Repetition is considered one of the most effective methods of assimilating information. 

Using Non-verbal and Verbal Cues

Nonverbal cues are any cues you give through your body, such as nodding with your head. On the other hand, verbal cues are affirmations, words, and sounds that express how you feel, such as a gasp, for instance. 

When you use these cues, you show that you’re following what the person is saying. Yet there’s the risk of overusing them. To avoid this risk, you should mirror the speaker’s emotions. 

This technique is also effective for building rapport as people tend to lean towards similar people who have a sense of familiarity. 

Asking Questions

This helps you understand the topic of the conversation in-depth and understand how the speaker is feeling. Ask open-ended questions for more details. 

Sharing similar experiences (to show understanding) 

This proves that you are paying attention and shows that you understand what the speaker is talking about, whether that’s a generic topic or a personal experience. In case of problems, this is also really effective to prove that you can help solve them. 

Giving Your Opinion

Finally, after waiting and listening attentively, sharing how you feel about it will undoubtedly be appreciated. After all, people usually share their intake expecting to hear some feedback. 

I’ve separated three videos that demonstrate these techniques (from which you can learn from): 

10 Active Listening Examples  

Example of Active Listening  

The Big Bang Theory Active Listening – english sub  

Benefits of Active Listening 

Active listening will benefit you and your life in many areas. Mainly in your:

Relationships 

As someone who practices active listening, you’ll be more empathic than the average person and more selfless. 

You’ll avoid degrading arguments (even if you’re the only one actively listening). On the other hand, your partner(s), friends, and family will more likely feel understood and seen by you, which will probably improve how you interact with each other. 

Work and Career

Active listening allows you to understand people and their issues and develop solutions for those issues. It’s an excellent addition for those working in areas where they interact with their colleagues (either in a leadership position or as equals). 

It’s also helpful for people who work in areas where there’s a lot of interaction with customers. 

Social Life

Active listening is a valuable skill when socializing because people love to feel heard and seen. By listening actively, you learn more from and about the people you’re interacting with, maximizing the chances of forming valuable and long-lasting connections. 

It’s obvious that practicing active listening will undoubtedly improve your life in many areas. Hopefully you’ll follow the tips and practice until you perfect this valuable skill. 

Further Readings

7 types of listening that can change your life and work- BETTER UP 

Triple-A-Listening- UMFK 

Emidio Amadebai

An avid seeker of knowledge, and passionate about sharing the lessons he picks up in life. Emidio is passionate about public speaking, teaching, and helping others develop critical soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and other interpersonal skills which are in high demand in today's rapidly evolving market.

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