Active listening can be quite a tricky skill to master and whilst it comes naturally to some people it doesn’t necessarily to others so I thought I’d share some hints and tips on how you can practice and learn.
- Be quiet, give them your full attention and listen to understand (don’t think about what you will say next or second guess what they will say next).
- Be curious about what is going on for that person by being interested in what they are saying or feeling. If this is something that doesn’t come naturally to you, ask yourself “If I stay curious about this person, and what they have to say, what could I learn?”
- Avoid the temptation to speak too soon. Use bridges such as “and, uh-huh, so” to show that you are listening, and you’d like to hear more.
- Allow space and silence. For example, allow time for the speaker to reflect and think about what they want to say.
- Listen for the underlying issue or emotion in what they’re saying (a disagreement about who left the dirty dishes in the office kitchen area isn’t about the dirty dishes; there’s a larger issue at play here and more at stake).
- Check in to see if you are understanding both content and feelings: For example, “It seems that you are frustrated by XYZ. Is that how you are feeling?”
- Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand before moving on from one topic to another. Listen and clarify that what you heard is what they intended. Repeat, as needed.
- Ask open-ended questions: These are questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” and they help get deeper into the conversation and promote more information sharing.
- Trust your gut or instinct and if you’re feeling like you’re not getting the complete story ask questions and listen further.
- Notice any body language changes (i.e. change in position, facial movements) or changes in energy/tone (i.e. speaking in higher tones, speeding up or raising their voice) which may be a cue or clue to ask more questions.
- Listen and look for any emotional signs that may alert you to the fact that there might be more to the story.
- When communication is effective, we understand where another person is coming from. If you don’t understand, or are not sure, where someone else is coming from (you don’t need to agree with them), it means you need to ask more questions.
- Ask yourself in your head during a pause in the conversation: “What’s not being said here?”
Author: Sian Milne, Life Coach at InsideOut