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The Fine Art of (Active) Listening

The Fine Art of Listening

How good are you at listening? Wait – before you answer…really listening. Active listening. Really paying attention to the person speaking. Not thinking about what you are going to say next or about what you’ll have for dinner that evening or about what you did last night. No doubt many of you – when you really considered it – answered, “No as well as I should be.” Trust me – you are not alone. Active listening takes considerable practice and paying attention to the other person – even when you disagree with them or they are boring. I sometimes have to stop and “check myself” and go back to active listening if my mind wanders during conversations.

Active listening is making a conscientious effort to not just hear what someone else is saying to you, but to understand what they are saying. To do this effectively, consider these best practice steps:

Show that you are listening and paying attention by:

  • Maintaining eye contact with the speaker
  • Ignoring distractions (such as someone talking nearby or looking out a window)
  • Nodding, saying “yes” and using facial expressions appropriately
  • Not letting your mind wander (such as preparing what your response will be!)
  • No interruptions in the middle of their conversation – wait your turn

Provide feedback by:

  • Reflecting back (not repeating) what the speaker is saying – “Sounds like you think…,” “I’m hearing that….”
  • Ask questions to ensure you understand what the speaker is saying – “Can you clarify that? I’m not sure I understand.”
  • As noted above…nodding, saying “yes” and using facial expressions appropriately

It takes practice!  We are often thinking ahead and distracted by other things going on when we are speaking with others. If you are not prepared to have a conversation with someone because of something else you are focused on – say so! I have learned to tell people I’d like to talk with them but really need to finish something I’m working on so I can give them my undivided attention. It works for them and enables me to really focus (and actively listen!) when I do have a conversation with them.