Active listening is a valuable skill in all facets of life. It helps improve communication with our friends and family, but it can also help us fast-track our careers.
To improve communication, you need to pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues and demonstrate genuine interest and empathy.
Here are some techniques to help you improve your active listening skills:
1) Avoid assumptions and jumping to conclusions
I could never look idle in front of my mom. She would straightaway assume I was bored and give me some stuff to do. Needless to say, I hated when that happened.
Like in the above example, assuming things or jumping to conclusions about what the other person is saying or doing is one of the things we should avoid. Unless you’re a mom. You can do anything you want in that case, apparently.
The rest of us shouldn’t judge others or their message right away. Instead, it’s better to ask questions to clarify and understand their perspective better.
I like to consider the context and try to figure out their underlying intent. By doing that, I create an improved and respectful space for communication.
2) Avoid interruptions
Avoiding interruptions is an essential aspect of active listening that proves we have respect and consideration for the person we’re talking to.
Interrupting can disrupt their flow of thoughts and make them feel unheard or even disregarded.
When you’re actively listening, it’s important not to interrupt the person speaking. It’s rude and makes the speaker feel like you’re not interested in what they’re saying.
By letting them finish what they’re saying before you respond, you show respect and allow them to express themselves fully.
3) Pay attention to non-verbal cues
Non-verbal cues are another essential aspect of active listening. It involves observing the speaker’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
Non-verbal cues are important because they give us valuable information about the person’s emotions, attitudes, and the underlying meaning behind their words.
Text messages and emails can lead to misunderstanding because we can’t see the face and body of the person we’re talking to. What they wanted to say, we can perceive in a totally different manner.
On the other side, by noticing their non-verbal cues, you can better understand their emotions, build a stronger connection, and respond in a way that shows you care.
Ultimately, it all comes down to picking up on things they don’t say directly and creating a more meaningful conversation.
4) Be aware of cultural differences
Cultural backgrounds shape our perspectives, communication styles, and non-verbal cues.
For instance, in many Western cultures, people typically prefer a greater distance between themselves and others during conversations, whereas in some Middle Eastern or Latin American cultures, people may stand or sit closer to each other while talking.
Gestures and body language can also have different meanings across cultures. For example, the “thumbs up” (👍) gesture is a positive affirmation in Western cultures, but in certain Middle Eastern or South Asian cultures, it can be seen as offensive.
Being aware of cultural differences means understanding that people from different backgrounds may have different ways of communicating and expressing themselves.
By being mindful of cultural variations in communication styles, you can adapt your approach to ensure effective understanding and build trust.
5) Show encouragement and support
For improved communication, we also need to show and offer encouragement and support while listening to someone.
Not just because it creates a positive and safe space for conversation but also because we let them know that we value their thoughts and feelings.
We also signal that we’re genuinely interested in what they have to say.
When you validate their experiences and offer positive feedback, you help build trust and rapport.
This boosts their confidence, motivates them, and inspires them to contribute more actively.
6) Maintain eye contact
We all know this one, right? When you maintain eye contact while listening to someone, it shows that you’re paying attention and interested in what they’re saying.
It helps build trust and connection with the speaker.
Eye contact allows you to understand their emotions and non-verbal cues better and encourages active participation by creating a positive atmosphere for conversation.
But maintaining eye contact can sometimes feel uncomfortable for various reasons. Here are a few strategies to help you maintain eye contact if you feel uncomfortable:
- Focus on a spot near the person’s eyes, such as their eyebrows.
- Try focusing on a triangular area between their eyes and mouth. Gradually shift your gaze within this triangle, alternating between their eyes and mouth.
- Take short breaks by briefly looking away.
- Demonstrate active listening through other non-verbal cues.
7) Be mindful of the tone
The tone of our voice can sometimes say more than the actual words. It represents our feelings, attitudes, and intentions behind the words we speak.
To improve active listening and improve our communication, we need to be mindful of the tone. In other words, we must pay attention to how someone is speaking, including their emotions and attitudes.
The way they say things gives important clues about what they really mean. When we’re aware of the tone, we can understand their message better and respond in a way that’s appropriate.
Here’s an example. If someone says, “Oh, that’s just perfect!” in an exciting tone, it means they’re genuinely excited. If, on the other side, they say it in a sarcastic tone, it means it isn’t perfect. Quite the opposite.
8) Ask open-ended questions
Some people aren’t great communicators. They answer questions with “yes” or “no.” I get it. I was the same until recently.
When you’re talking to that kind of person, it’s best to ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
By asking open-ended questions, they’ll be “forced” to share more details, thoughts, and feelings.
You also show that you’re genuinely interested and give them the opportunity to express themselves entirely.
But above all, it helps you understand their perspective better, promotes deeper conversations, and avoids making assumptions.
Open-ended questions are a great way to keep the conversation going and show that you’re actively listening.
If you aren’t sure what they look like, know that open-ended questions typically start with “what,” “how,” “why,” or “tell me about.”
- What are your thoughts on this topic?
- How do you feel about the situation?
- Why do you think this is important?
- Can you tell me about your experience with…?
9) Reflect and paraphrase
Reflecting and paraphrasing are essential techniques in active listening. They clearly and easily demonstrate your understanding of the person’s message and encourages them to elaborate more.
It also helps ensure you’re on the same page and urges the person to share more.
However, when you’re reflecting and paraphrasing, you need to be natural and authentic.
Use your own words and avoid repeating the speaker’s exact phrases too frequently.
This may come across as insincere.
Instead, aim to capture the essence of their message and communicate it in a way that echoes your understanding.
10) Don’t let your mind wander
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself and others not paying attention to the conversation. It’s apparent that our attention span has been reduced drastically.
In fact, some research shows that our attention spans are shorter than ever. Not being able to finish a movie or a (short) book in one sitting is now the gold standard for many people, including myself.
To improve communication, it’s really important to stay focused and not let your mind wander. It shows respect and interest in what the person is saying.
By staying engaged, you understand their message better and avoid misunderstandings.
To prevent your mind from wandering, practice mindfulness, minimize distractions, and use other active listening techniques on this list.
Such as this next one.
11) Be concise and to the point
If you want to communicate effectively, you must be clear and get to the point quickly. Being concise means expressing your ideas in a straightforward way without unnecessary details.
This helps people understand you better and saves time.
But best of all, when you’re concise, you keep people interested and engaged in the conversation.
However, being concise doesn’t mean leaving out important information. Instead, we’re presenting it clearly and simply.
In the end, I’ve learned that being concise improves communication and shows respect for other people’s time.
There you have it, 11 techniques you can use to improve your active listening and overall communication skills.
This will help you build stronger relationships and promote a more collaborative and respectful communication environment.
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