Personal Development
Active Listening Skills, Examples and Exercises

Active Listening Skills, Examples and Exercises

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The Benefits of Active Listening and Techniques to Practice It

Living in a high-tech, high-stress era has made communication increasingly important. Unfortunately, spending quality time actively listening to others has become scarce. However, improving one's active listening skills can build relationships, resolve issues, ensure comprehension and prevent arguments. Not only can it improve workplace productivity, but it can also bolster your capabilities for leading, persuading and negotiating.

Active listening requires attention, understanding, response and retention of what is being said. It is crucial to strive to absorb the full message of the speaker, rather than just taking in bits and pieces.

Why Is Listening Important?

Listening is an essential part of communication, and not something that occurs passively. It requires making a conscious decision to pay attention and understand what the speaker is communicating. Many studies state that approximately 70-80% of our waking hours are spent communicating. Of that time, 9% is dedicated to writing, 16% to reading, 30% to speaking and 45% to listening. Unfortunately, research shows that most of us are not very adept listeners and tend to remember less than half of what we hear.

The benefits of active listening include: increasing trust, broadening perspectives, developing patience, making it easier to talk to someone and increasing knowledge and skills. It serves to decrease the likelihood of errors or misunderstandings that could be hazardous to business activities, and also saves time and money by avoiding having to start over a project due to miscommunication.

When listening, one should intentionally attempt to comprehend what the speaker is trying to say, no matter how unclear the message may be. It entails deciphering both verbal and non-verbal messages, such as facial expressions and posture. Moreover, successful listeners should indicate to the speaker that they are being heard by using non-verbal cues, including making eye contact, nodding and agreeing out loud. Lastly, they should encourage the speaker to share their thoughts and feelings.

Verbal Signs of Active Listening

  • Positive Reinforcement - Showing appreciation for what is being said can be a strong indication of attentiveness. Utilize words like ‘very good’, ‘yes’ or ‘indeed’ to indicate that you are listening. However, be careful not to overuse them.
  • Recalling - Aim to remember a few main points, such as the speaker's name. This will prove that the message has been heard.

Non-Verbal Signs of Active Listening

Non-verbal signs of attentive listening can include leaning in or resting one's head on one hand, small smiles and continual eye contact. Additionally, it is important to avoid distractions like fidgeting, checking the time, doodling, playing with hair, etc.

The Benefits of Active Listening

Active listening is one of the key components to being an attentive audience member. It is not only important to stay focused and engaged in a conversation, but it is also a great way to motivate the speaker to continue talking. Being able to remember details, opinions, and concepts demonstrates that attention was retained.

Different Listening Styles

Generally speaking, there are four unique listening styles that individuals may adopt. People-oriented listening involves concentrating on the speaker more than the material itself. Action/task-oriented listeners are likely to prioritize instructions in a safety lecture, rather than understanding the explanation. Content-oriented listeners concentrate on grasping the message, while time-oriented listeners prefer succinct delivery.

Active Listening Strategies

Questioning and clarification are two essential aspects of active listening. Questioning refers to asking appropriate questions or making statements which can deepen understanding of the speaker, while clarification entails asking questions which help to ensure the correct message is conveyed. Additionally, speaking affirmations, open-ended questions, particular questions, and references to relatable situations are all effective active listening strategies.

  • Paraphrasing: "So, you would like us to construct the new school in the same style as the old one?"
  • Brief verbal affirmation: "Thank you for taking the time to converse with me."
  • Asking open-ended questions: "I understand you are not satisfied with your new car. What could we do to improve it?"
  • Asking specific questions: "How many employees did you hire last year?"
  • Mentioning similar circumstances: "I experienced a similar situation after my previous employer let me go."
  • Summarising questions: A job applicant summarising their understanding of a challenging question during an interview.
  • Acknowledging people speaking: A meeting leader encouraging a quiet team member to communicate their views about a project.
  • Summarising group conversations: A manager summarising what was said during a meeting and ensuring everyone is in agreement.

Barriers to Efficient Listening

Although it can be hard to stay focused during an extended conversation or speech, everyone faces this challenge. Some of the hindrances to good listening may be impossible to control, while others are manageable. These include noise, limited attention span, receiver biases, and listening apprehension.

The Art of Listening

Listen without formulating assumptions and do not jump in to finish the speaker's sentences. Realize that language is simply one way of representing the ideas and emotions in the brain. Interrupting is impolite and can suggest that you are more important, think your thought is better, do not value the speaker's thoughts, or do not have enough time to listen.

Daisy-chaining is another form of interruption that should be avoided. This occurs when a listener continues the train of thought of a speaker until the speaker is forced to agree with the listener's idea. Respect the speaker's pace and, if someone has difficulty expressing themselves, give them as much time as possible.

Questions are an excellent way to ensure understanding of what is being said. Do not interrupt the speaker, instead wait until they pause and then say something like, "Can you explain to me what you said about…" Also, be sure to ask pertinent questions related to the topic, as opposed to ones that may lead down a different path. Finally, as the speaker ends, summarise what was discussed and check that everyone agrees.

The Art of Listening

Listening effectively not only involves listening to what the speaker is saying, but also understanding their emotions and responding with empathy and feedback. Taking in the full message requires paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Getting Back to the Original Topic

In conversations, sometimes we work our way back to the original topic, while other times we don't. Summarizing the conversation can be a useful tool to ensure everyone is on the same page and provide an opportunity to move onto another topic.

Feel What the Speaker is Feeling

In order to really understand the speaker, it is important to put yourself in their shoes and experience empathy. This may take energy and concentration, however it can be beneficial in developing a connection and fostering meaningful communication.

Provide Regular Feedback

Regular feedback is key in communication. By reflecting the speaker's feelings, it helps to ensure understanding. If the speaker's feelings are not clear, paraphrasing what has been said or giving a simple nod and facial expression can help indicate that the message has been received.

Pay Attention to Non-verbal Cues

Non-verbal cues are an important component of communication, comprising the majority of face-to-face interactions. Paying attention to the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, and the slope of the shoulders can help to detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation the speaker may be feeling.

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