We hear everyone talk about active listening, but how many of us actually know how to use it? Devoting some effort to learning and practicing this skill can transform your relationships, including the one with yourself.
What Is Active Listening?
Have you ever been so focused on what you want to say when it’s your turn that you don’t even hear what someone else just explained? We all fall into this trap, especially during difficult conversations. We listen to respond rather than to understand. Active listening is a technique that requires you to hear the explicit words and notice the underlying message. It takes patience and a nonjudgmental attitude. When actively listening to someone during a conversation, you fully take in their information before adding your own.
Why Active Listening Matters
Communication can make or break a relationship. Active listening is one of the best ways to show another person you value what they say. Even if you disagree with someone, making them feel heard and understood helps bridge the gap between their opinion and your own. At work, active listening can help you avoid inefficiencies caused by miscommunication. At home, modeling active listening for your children will help them feel confident as speakers and listeners themselves. Close relationships with friends and partners also benefit from this technique; you’re extending your care for a person into conversations.
When you employ active listening, you’ll ultimately spend less time working through disagreements and details and more time collaboratively approaching problems. You’ll also find that you better understand your own communication needs and values once you begin to focus on respect, humility, and patience in your conversations.
Signs You Should Practice Active Listening
While active listening is vital in most conversations, several signs indicate you might benefit in particular from this technique:
- You avoid talking with certain people because you get frustrated.
- You frequently experience miscommunication and confusion.
- You feel like conversations get stuck.
- You’d like to improve your relationships with a variety of people.
Keys for Active Listening Success
Like other communication techniques, active listening is something that you can practice and improve.
Practice Mindfulness Alone
Active listening is a form of mindful communication, so practicing mindfulness can help you develop this skill. Because active listening sometimes triggers our emotions, try keeping a feelings journal to practice noticing your responses. Each day, note down how you felt, responded, and any circumstances you can remember.
Build Your Confidence
Even though active listening seems like it’s about your conversation with the other person, it actually requires a strong sense of self to succeed. When you’re listening to understand rather than to respond, you leave open the possibility that the other person won’t hear your side of things. Only genuinely confident and secure people can accept that fact calmly, knowing that eventually, they can share their perspective.
Learn to Sit in Silence
So much of our daily lives is fast-paced, demanding immediate input and response. Active listening requires the opposite, so becoming comfortable in silence is essential. Learn to avoid the impulse to fill the silence with talking. Take your time to formulate a response, even if it means a long pause.
Prepare to Summarize
An excellent technique for active listening is to summarize what you’ve heard back to the speaker before you include your own remarks. You can paraphrase their statements and allow them to clarify any points. This technique may feel strange initially, but the more you practice, the easier it will be. Practice summarizing things you read, podcast episodes, or even your own thoughts to get used to this skill.
Choose Conversations Wisely
One of the best ways to encourage active listening from yourself and others is to choose your conversations wisely. Don’t schedule important meetings when you know you’ll be hungry or tired. Set aside uninterrupted time to have difficult talks with loved ones. You can even refuse to engage in conversations that you know will push you back into the reactive communication realm.
Active listening is a technique that everyone can use in almost all situations, so it’s never too late to start practicing.