An Introduction To 'Active Listening'

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It’s quite likely that you’ve recently heard the term ‘active listening’, either in the workplace or out in the world in general. If you’re wondering what exactly active listening is - and how it could benefit you, and those around you - we’ve put together a quick introduction to the basic ideas behind it, and how to apply it to your day to day life!



Active listening is a technique that requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said by someone they’re conversing with. An important factor is the listener not simply hearing what is being said, but also observing the speaker’s behaviour and body language, to fully understand what is being communicated and its context. It’s essential that the listener is not just listening, but they’re seen to be listening by the speaker - which in turn will ensure the person speaking feels more at ease and able to communicate more easily, honestly, and openly. It’s a conversational technique that is often used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts. 



Here are some ways you can indicate verbally that you’re engaged in what a speaker is telling you, although it’s worth using them sparingly to ensure you don’t distract from what the speaker is saying, or place too much unnecessary emphasis on certain things they are articulating.

    • Question: if you ask relevant questions about what the speaker is saying, it reinforces that you are interested in what they have to tell you. 


    • Reflecting: a verbal way of mirroring the speaker, paraphrasing or closely repeating what the speaker has just said can demonstrate that you understand what they’ve just told you, and bolster their message.


    • Clarifying: much like questioning, asking for clarification on certain points can ensure the correct idea is being received and by clarifying via open questions, you can allow the speaker space to expand on what they’re saying if necessary. 


    • Remember: if you’re able to recall ideas and concepts from earlier conversations with the speaker, you’ll be able to prove that they had your attention and it’s likely to encourage the speaker to continue conversing freely and openly with you. If you and the speaker are in a longer exchange, it may be appropriate to make notes to show you are invested in what they’re telling you and wish to recall it correctly at a later time.



While it's important to keep in mind that these non-verbal signs might not be appropriate in all conversational circumstances and across all cultures, here are just some ways you can show a speaker that you're genuinely and actively listening to what they have to say.

    • Smiling: small smiles, combined with nodding, can give the affirming message to the speaker that what they have to say is important, is being listened to, and most importantly is being understood.


    • Eye contact: if a speaker is shy, too much eye contact can be intimidating so it’s essential to try and gauge how much eye contact is appropriate in the individual circumstances. Combining eye contact with other encouraging non-verbal cues such as smiling can help put someone at ease. 


    • Avoiding distraction: it’s important that while someone is trying to communicate to you, you avoid checking your phone, fidgeting, looking at a clock, playing with your hair, etc. 


    • Mirroring: reflecting the facial expressions of the speaker can assist in showing empathy and sympathy in more emotional situations.


    • Posture: an active listener has a tendency to either lean slightly forward, or sideways, while sitting. Other indications that you’re actively listening to someone might include a slight slant of the head or resting your head on one hand.  

Demonstrating active listening skills, especially in the workplace, will help you to earn the respect and trust of your colleagues - it's always appreciated when someone indicates a keen desire for understanding your perspective, and it's likely to make those around you feel valued and inspire their confidence... and that can only help a team work more productively and accomplish their goals! 


Being able to actively listen to your peers is indicative of having great leadership skills, and displaying your active listening abilities on a regular basis can only strengthen your standing among your co-workers and management. 


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