active listening skill

Active listening means developing the skill of effective listening. It isn’t just about communicating. It helps strengthen relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, settle disputes, and improve work efficiency.

When you listen well helps you connect with others and build rapport. You become more effective as a communicator, colleague, family member, or friend. 

Good listeners are more productive, make better partners and colleagues, are better problem-solvers, and have healthier interpersonal relationships. 

Whether they are speaking to one person or a group, people who listen well engender trust, respect, and even loyalty. That’s why good listeners usually make good leaders.

Effective listening is also an essential component in conflict resolution. First, because there are fewer misunderstandings, and second because, to agree to settle a disagreement, people in dispute need to feel heard and understood. Listening, and acknowledging the other person’s point of view, is also the surest way to end an argument.

No time to listen

In the modern, high-speed world, effective communication is more important than it ever was. If you worry that listening well takes more time than you can spare, don’t. Learning the active listening skill means less time talking and more time understanding and sharing the important stuff.

Because struggling to hear someone and not being heard are both stressful, when you remove these barriers you also eliminate much of the stress created by miscommunication.

If you decide to improve your listening skills you will distinguish yourself and appear more self-assured and confident. You will also be able to build more positive, collaborative and productive relationships.

The benefits of listening well

Being a good listener has many benefits. The obvious ones are that we become better at understanding and relating to others. This in turn should make you appear more approachable and interested.

This is especially true at work, but consider how your family and social relationships could also be improved as you acquire great listening skills.

Good listeners are more productive, make better partners and colleagues, are better problem-solvers, and have healthier interpersonal relationships. 

There are some other, less obvious, benefits too. For example, 

You become a better friend

Friends understand and support each other. They don’t always agree, but they do respect each other’s right to their opinions. Above all, a friend who is someone who will accept and support you, knowing when they need to give you their undivided attention and hear you out. 

Emotional Intelligence

Self awareness is one of the core components of Emotional Intelligence. Listening, empathising and paying attention to others are part of the mix that include self awareness, social awareness, personal insight, self-management and managing relationships.

Personal benefits

When someone commits to using their listening skills fully, it lowers tension and helps them to manage themselves. This in turn helps reduce the effects of stress, and it boosts confidence, builds rapport, and helps engender trust.

You gain respect

When you listen fully by giving another person your undivided attention you demonstrate the highest form of respect. This is a two-way process. People who show respect towards others, are more respected themselves. It means that they will be more likely to respond with respect for you. 

People pay more attention to you

The less people feel listened to, the more they feel they must make the effort to be heard. Instead of paying attention to you, they will often try to dominate the conversation and impose their views. Effective listening reverses this; when someone feels heard they feel valued, and we all pay attention to someone who values us! 

You’ll be more efficient

In any conversation, the more the people hear and understand each other, the less they need to repeat themselves and correct misunderstandings. The result is not just effective communication, it is also more efficient, and that saves time.

You seem wise and intelligent

Listen, and you appear reflective and wise. The ability to hold your tongue, to listen to the other person is a gift for them. You speak only when you have understood, and have something interesting, and relevant, to say.

Who’d have thought it! Learning to be an effective listener has all-round benefits, and there are no losers.

Why listening is hard to do

Several factors conspire to interfere with our ability to listen to others effectively:

  • Pressure. The pace of life, and our daily demands, leave us little time to even consider listening properly.
  • Not only do we think we don’t have time to listen, attitudes to ‘getting things done’ emphasises outcomes and results. 
  • When we are in a hurry we are less likely to slow down and listen patiently and deliberately. 

Listening vs hearing

Listening and hearing are different activities. Hearing is an automatic, physical process. You can’t turn it off nor refuse to hear the sounds around you. We also filter out sounds we are used to hearing; ‘planes, lawnmowers, distant traffic, and the like. We hear these incidental sounds, but we ignore them unless we have reason to do otherwise. 

Listening, by contrast, means deliberately focusing on what we are hearing. It is a purposeful, psychological process. ‘Listening’ may imply passive reception, but it is really a highly active process of responding.

To listen effectively, you must check that you have correctly understood. You do this by checking your understanding, so they can correct you or fill in any gaps if you’ve missed anything. 

Listening this way is called Active Listening. When you listen actively you raise your communication skills to a new level. 

Where to start

Learning to listen properly is not a one-lesson exercise. Being able to pay attention fully to another – keeping our focus on them without jumping to conclusions or allowing our biases and judgements to occlude what we are hearing and observing – is an ongoing process of keeping your listening habits up to standard.

You already have all the abilities you need, they are part of the normal human repertoire of communication skills. If it’s true that most of us could do with improving our listening, it’s also true that all it really takes is self-awareness and practice.

If you need encouragement, remember how it felt the last time you gave another your fullest attention and simply listened. Listening unconditionally is a gift twice over. The listener is gifted, and they are also giving the gift of their full attention to the speaker.

How to become an effective listener

The first step to becoming a better listener is to eliminate poor listening habits. Then comes developing an open attitude and practising positive listening skills. You’ll reap the benefits and avoid the potential listening black spots.

Remembering to practice is perhaps the hardest part. Stick at it, you’ll be rewarded.

Active Listening

  1. Give the speaker your full attention. Make sure that you are comfortable and undistracted as you listen.
  2. Look interested: Adopt an open posture and use facial expression and other non-verbal cues (nod, smile), to signal that you are engaged.
  3. Summarise regularly: Feed back your understanding, (make sure of what you heard, not what you think you heard)
  4. Avoid judgement: Listen to the speaker, not your thoughts and conclusions.
  5. Respond respectfully: Accept what you’ve heard. If it differs from your views, say so, but don’t attack or force your opinion. 

Throughout this process of honing your active listening skill, your job is only to LISTEN. It takes practice. Your mind will constantly interfere with the listening process if you let it. constantly. If your attention wanders, bring it back to the process, and focus.

The skill of active listening

As you move from average listening – which is what most of us do most of the time – to becoming a good listener, you’ll soon begin to notice the following, tangible benefits.

  • Improved relationships and cooperation – people respond better to someone whom they perceive listens intently to their needs. People are more likely to pay attention to you, if you start by paying close attention to them.
  • Greater trust – Authentic listening builds rapport between people, as it fosters respect and trust between speaker and listener. 
  • Problem-solving – Two minds are better than one. Listening effectively fosters collaboration so that solutions to problems can be generated more easily and discussed before being put into action. 
  • A cooler head – Listening intently reduces tension and helps both sides to stay cool. This is particularly important when you are discussing a sensitive topic or handling a crisis.
  • Developing the skill of active listening will boost your confidence – People who listen well tend to have better self-esteem and self-image because active listening helps to build positive relationships.
  • Briefer conversations – The active listening skill leads to understanding and accuracy. It reduces misunderstandings and mistakes, and both sides tend to remember conversations better. 

As you can see, the skill of active listening brings benefits that go way beyond simply being nice or attentive to the speaker. As your competence as a listener grows, so will your confidence, and you can enjoy these and other benefits.

How to Become a Great Listener

Perhaps you have to listen well as part of your job, or you want to give full attention to your children and loved ones, or maybe you simply want to do better in life. This powerful course will help you do all of these things and more. Take my online course, How to Become a Great Listener, and take your listening to new heights. See you there, I hope!

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.