Are You Listening? 5 Steps of Active Listening
Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.
– Andy Stanley
Communication surrounds us; it is a fundamental aspect of our lives, society and work environment. We like to communicate and it’s how we connect and build relationships with other people. By communicating we interchange our ideas, information and feelings.
Interpersonal communication is one of the most important types of communication and is defined as face-to-face communication, where participants engage in minimally restricted dialogue with one another. During this form of communication people are more likely to self-disclose information, or share personal details that would not be shared with a stranger. Interpersonal communication breaks down barriers that individuals use to protect themselves from feeling vulnerable and it strengthens relationships helping to build trust and collaboration.
It’s critical for people to be effective communicators and avoid roadblocks that disrupt communication. Speaking is one part of the communication equation and listening is the other part.
Are you an active listener?
Active listening is to actively engage in listening and to fully concentrate on what is being shared rather than “passively” hearing the message. The active listener uses all of their senses to engage and is seen by the speaker to be listening. Active listening is a skill that doesn’t come easily for some people but can be developed and acquired with practice. Too often, we are distracted or eager to share our personal ideas and we don’t actively listen to information being shared by others. Active listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication.
Listening does not happen naturally; we can hear information and not be engaged in attentive listening. The following steps enhance the skill of active listening:
1. Keep eye contact throughout the conversation.
2. Show verbal and nonverbal signs of listening. Be aware of facial expressions and body language.
3. Remain neutral and non-judgmental.
4. Exercise patience, short periods of silence should be expected. Allow time for the other person to explore their thoughts and feelings.
5. Share feedback, this demonstrates appropriate responsiveness by responding to what is being shared.
Nonverbal signals play a critical role in active listening. The generic nonverbal signs of attentive listening include: eye contact, smiling, posture, mirroring and distraction.
Show that you are paying attention to what is being said by smiling during the conversation. Combined with nods of the head, smiles can be a powerful affirmation and provide encouragement to the speaker. Eye contact shows attentiveness, but gauge how much eye contact is appropriate and combine it with other positive nonverbal signals. Posture tells a lot about the sender and receiver of interpersonal interactions; be conscious of posture and body position. Automatic mirroring of facial expressions can be used to show emotions like encouragement, sympathy or excitement towards the sender. Avoid distractions during conversations by muting cell phones, moving away from electronic devices and giving the speaker your full attention.
Effective communication occurs when individuals display attentiveness through positive reinforcement, remembering key points, asking relevant questions, paraphrasing what the speaker has said, and clarifying the messages that have been received. Interpersonal communication builds relationships and collaboration, increases productivity, and fuels creative thinking.