Published on March 18, 2019 | Career Talks
Active Listening Skills | Become A Better Listener
An average human spends about 70-80% of their waking hours in some form of communication. Out of this time, we spend about 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking and 45 per cent listening. Although we spend 45% of the time listening, we don’t really listen as well as we could and often get distracted by other things in the surrounding environment. Studies confirm that most of us are inefficient listeners. We often comprehend and retain only 25% of what we hear.
To become a good listener and retain information effectively you need to start listening actively. Before defining active listening, let’s categorize listening into it’s two basic forms: Active listening and passive listening.
Passive listening means exhibiting listening like behaviour to the speaker but not necessarily trying to know the meaning. Active listening on the other hand, as the term suggests is a more active form of listening which involves trying to deeply understand what the speaker wants to communicate rather than hearing only what you want to understand. Instead of focusing on what’s going on inside your head, you shift your focus to the speaker’s message.
Effective listeners use extra brain capacity to improve listening. For this reason, active listening is not easy. It demands empathy, effort, attention, and lots of practice. Most of us do not absorb the information properly as we resort to passive listening. Poor listening skills, however, can affect our personal and professional lives.
Importance of Active listening
The sound value of listening
“We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more believed, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective and learns more and does more good.” — Brenda Ueland
Active listening is an important skill for anyone to develop. This skills along with other skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving are highly valued in the workplace by employers. To increase your understanding of the information given to you, you must be more effective in your active-listening skills. This skill is also an essential component of leadership.
During an interview, active listening can help build rapport with the interviewer.
A recent study conducted at George Washington University showed that listening can influence up to 40% of a leader’s job performance.
How to be a better listener in a world where everyone’s talking-
1. Be attentive
When engaged in listening make frequent eye contact and ask back relevant questions to the speaker. Looking away or frequently checking your phone is likely to be interpreted as lack of interest.
2. Ask relevant questions
Effective listener critically analyses the information they hear and ask relevant questions. Asking clarifying questions indicates you want to understand the message conveyed which allows the speaker to expand their ideas.
Paraphrasing is an excellent way to verify the accuracy of your understanding.
Restating key themes is a way to show how much you have understood and it helps both parties to stay on the same track.
Active listening demands an open mind. This means you must learn to withhold judgement even when you have strong opinions. Always let the speaker complete their thought before speaking.
As a listener, you need to be open to new ideas, perspectives and new possibilities.
5. Assert opinions respectfully
An active listener makes a smooth transition from listening to speaking. Because communication is a two-way street, both parties should participate in the conversation. It involves giving feedback to the speaker about how their message affected you. For the listener, this means concentrating on what the speaker has to say and avoiding thoughts about what you are going to say as soon as you get a chance.
6. Use non-verbal gestures
An effective listener uses verbal and non-verbal gestures to display attentiveness. This includes signals like affirmative head nods and maintaining eye contact. Keep in mind to avoid distracting gestures like looking at the watch, staring out of the window etc. while the speaker is speaking.
As a former U.S. defense secretary once explained:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And… it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”- Therefore a good listener is always better than a good talker.
Like every other skill, active listening skills takes time to develop. But with practice and using the above-mentioned behaviour as guides, you can improve your ability and become an effective active listener.