Active listening is a key component of successful conversations. Too often in conversations, we rush to assume what people mean, or just wait for our turn to speak without really hearing what other people are saying.
If you’re not convinced about how important active listening is, think about times when you’ve been chatting with someone and felt really understood and that your opinion has been heard – how great did that feel? Whoever you were talking to was actively listening to you, possibly without even realizing that’s what they were doing.
Active listening is about being empathetic and seeking to understand the other person’s reality. Here are some tips:
Listen with no interruptions – give the speaker space for pauses and time for their own internal reflections, without immediately jumping in with questions or suggestions. You can still show you are listening with eye contact, appropriate smiles, nods and “mmm hmm”s.
Think about what’s been said and follow up with things such as “am I hearing / understanding you correctly in that… (in your own words)” to show you’ve heard what they’ve said, as well as making sure you really have understood their perspective.
When needed, suggest digging in to how the speaker feels about challenges or issues a little more by asking questions like “what thoughts and feelings come up for you when you’re thinking about this challenge?”
To get an even deeper understanding, you can ask things like: “does this challenge / situation remind you of any others you have faced in the past? What can you learn from those?”
Ask and listen to what the speaker wants to do: “What do you want to do about this challenge?”, “What actions could work for you?”, “What does good (in this area) look like?”. Try to encourage the speaker to come up with actions rather than offering your own suggestions, unless they are struggling and specifically ask for your advice or help.
Active listening can be a tricky but extremely useful skill to hone. Everyone can do it, it just takes some practice!