Communication is a fundamental aspect of human interaction, and one of its most crucial components is listening. While hearing is a natural ability, active listening is a skill that requires conscious effort and practice.
Active listening involves giving full attention to a speaker, understanding their message, and responding appropriately. It’s an element of all four pillars of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management). What makes it “active” instead of “passive” is that you’re truly being present and listening to understand, not to respond.
A quote from one of our trainings that we’ve adapted: When we don’t push our agenda to feel competent or relevant, we can better listen to the other person’s desires.
If we’re not consciously aware of our agenda, then it takes over, and probably does not match or align with the other person’s agenda.
How can you engage in active listening?
- Be aware of what’s going on with you. Your observing ego can come in handy here. Person A says something, and you have a reaction. What is that reaction? What is its source or trigger?
- Pause your innate desire to respond. Take a nanosecond and determine if how you respond will really forward the action. Also, if you’re planning on what to say next, you’re not fully listening.
- Understand the other person’s agenda. If you don’t know, ask! As I mentioned in the Functional Communication article, it would be extremely helpful if Person A is clear about what they’re communicating and what they need.
- Ask clarifying questions. In addition to the above (understanding their agenda and your own), ask questions so you are truly listening to understand. For bonus points, ask open-ended questions, or use one of our favorites: “Can you say more about that?”
- Pay attention and indicate that you’re paying attention. This might come in the form of body language (nodding, for example), maintaining eye contact, and asking those clarifying questions mentioned above. Oh, and put down the phone. 🙂
- Don’t interrupt. Honestly, except in some rare cases, interruption is disrespectful. Your interrupting is a signal to the other person that what you have to say is more important than what they are saying. In essence, you’re yanking the proverbial floor from under them.
Active listening is a powerful tool that can transform the quality of communication in both personal and professional relationships. By making a conscious effort to listen actively, we can create an environment of understanding, respect, and collaboration. As Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”