How to Practice Active, Effective Listening

This article originally appeared on AndresManuelOlivaresMiranda.com on Sep. 9, 2017.

Did you know that research suggests that between 50-75 percent of what we hear is forgotten? That means that we only remember 25-50 percent of what we hear. Whether it be a college course, a business meeting or downtime with your significant other, every individual can benefit from better listening skills. Throughout schooling, we are all taught different techniques to help us listen better. But as we previously discussed, most of that isn’t heard. So, listed below are the top five ways to become an active and effective listener.

Pay Attention

I don’t want to hear a ‘duh’ from anyone. We all know we should pay attention, but how do you do it? The first step to paying attention is acknowledging the speaker and deciding that you want to listen. This allows your brain to set aside any distractions and put your full focus on the speaker. Paying attention to things like the speaker’s body language helps you stay in tune with how they are feeling, as well as helps you stay focused on understanding the meaning of the speaker’s message.

Listening Signals

Once you have decided to actively listen, it is always helpful to let the speaker know that they have an attentive audience. One great way to tell the speaker you are paying attention is through facing the speaker and making eye contact. It shows that you are interested and that you want them to know it. Avoid things like text messaging, checking email, side conversations, and wandering eyes. These things immediately tell the speaker they have lost your attention, and it is very distracting. As the speech continues, feel free to blink and look elsewhere. You don’t need to hold eye contact to prove you are tuned in. Other ways to express your interest include keeping your posture upright, nodding your head, and using facial expressions.

Expel Assumptions

It is so easy to think you know where a person is going with a sentence or a line of thought. However, the truth is that we all have different mental processes and perceptions that bring us to different conclusions about the same idea. Active, effective listening requires the listener to wait for the full message before deciding the meaning, asking questions or sharing counterarguments. ALWAYS do everything in your power to avoid interruptions. It is rude to the speaker, and it is detrimental to your capability of understanding what is being shared.

Offer Feedback

The person speaking wants you to understand the message they are sharing. You, as a listener, need to understand the speaker’s message in order for communication to be effective. Offering feedback creates a smoother communication process. The listener can ask questions, summarize the speaking points, and reflect what has been said to clarify the intent of the message. If the message feels personal in some way, remember to reflect back and ask questions before accepting your emotions or reactions.

Appropriately Respond

After listening, you should always follow up with something that shows you paid attention. Remember to think about how you would like to be treated when conversing with someone. Share any opinions or thoughts you have, but do so openly, honestly, and respectfully.

When it comes to active, effective listening, you are your biggest obstacle. Put everything aside, choose to focus, and work on understanding the speaker’s message and intent. Remain open-minded and respectful, and over time, you will quickly begin to notice improvements in your listening skills.

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