Active listening means as the name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively hearing the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all the senses. These include our non-verbals like our posture, our facial expressions, and our eye contact. This also involves eliminating distractions so that we can focus on the message.
Listening is not something that just happens (that’s hearing), listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen and understand the message of the speaker. Listeners should remain neutral and non-judgmental, this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in conversations. Active listening is also about patience. Listeners should not be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there is a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings, they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that.
So, we have established the value of improving listening to improve communications. Let’s look at some practical ways we can demonstrate that we are listening and understanding:
Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
Talking to someone while they scan the room, study a computer screen, or gaze out the window is like trying to hit a moving target. How much of the person's divided attention you are actually getting? Fifty percent? Five percent? If the person were your child you might demand, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," but that's not the sort of thing we say to a lover, friend, or colleague.
Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Now that you've made eye contact, relax. You don't have to stare fixedly at the other person. You can look away now and then and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive.
Step 3: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things she tells you. If what she says alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don't say to yourself, "Well, that was a stupid move." As soon as you indulge in judgmental bemusements, you've compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with your senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, keywords and phrases.
Step 5: Don't interrupt and don't impose your "solutions."
Children used to be taught that it was rude to interrupt. I'm not sure that message is getting across anymore. Certainly, the opposite is being modeled on the majority of talk shows and reality programs, where loud, aggressive, in-your-face behavior is condoned, if not encouraged.
Now make the commitment. Commit to becoming an active listener. Practice the skills and watch relationships be transformed.