How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

I am a huge proponent of the power of communication. Effective communication can make nearly every phase of your life better.

Strong communication skills will help you succeed in business and will positively impact your personal relationships. On the other hand, poor communication can lead to a wide variety of challenges in all of your relationships. It’s a skill that can have a profound influence on nearly every phase of your life.

While you might not immediately think of listening as a key component to communication, it really is. Half of all communication is listening.

To be a really good communicator, you have to learn how to truly listen. I can show you how. Follow along to find out how to practice active listening, I will share with you a step by step guide.

What Is Active Listening?

Let’s start with a definition of active listening.

Active listening, like you might guess, means that you are actively listening to the person that is speaking. It means really paying attention to the person as they are talking to you. This is different that the passive hearing that is done in many conversations.

Active listening involves using many of your senses to listen to the person. It also means giving the person your full attention. You need to show the other person that you are truly listening to them, your body language will convey this to the person that is talking to you.

Think of it as your ears truly hearing, your brain thoroughly processing, and the rest of your body showing that you are fully present in the moment and engaged on what is being said. This is a good way to visualize active listening.

The Importance of Active Listening

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of how to practice active listening, let’s first look at why active listening is important.

If you agree that being a good communicator will have great benefits in all of your relationships, then you most likely agree that listening is an important part of communication. And it is.

Here’s a few reasons why it’s well worth practicing active listening whenever possible:

Builds Mutual Trust

When someone sees that you are actively listening, they immediately think that you care about what they are saying. It’s well known that most of us gain great satisfaction from being understood. It’s one of those things that just makes us feel good.

When you are showing someone that you are very interested in what they are saying, they can’t help but feel like you are seeking to understand them. This in turn greatly affects how much they feel they can trust you.

Boost Self Confidence

People who are good at active listening tend to have higher self esteem and a higher self image. This is because they are skilled at working towards establishing and building strong, positive relationships.

People who do this on a regular basis tend to feel confident in their abilities.

Fewer Mistakes and Less Miscommunication

As you might imagine, if you are practicing active listening, you actually catch lots of details and nuances you might otherwise miss.

If you are simply waiting for someone to finish speaking so you can open your mouth, you are only paying partial attention. And this is a sure fire way to miss some important points.

When you actively listen to someone, you will catch many details and subtleties you might otherwise miss.

Improved Productivity

Imagine you are assigned a project. Now imagine the person who assigned you the project clearly articulates the entire project from start to finish. Then imagine that person actively listening to your responses and clarifying any questions you might have.

As you walk out of that meeting, you have a crystal clear picture of what you need to deliver and how you are going to do it. Isn’t that a nice feeling?

Having someone actively listen to you and clearly communicate will make a world of difference in how productive you are in accomplishing that project. You have a clear road map to get to your destination in a successful manner.

Fewer Arguments

Remember one of the greatest satisfactions we all have is feeling understood. This is very relevant here.

One of the biggest reasons why arguments tend to escalate is due to a lack of understanding. When we feel someone is truly listening to us, we feel much more understood. And when we feel understood, we trust the other person more and tend to argue less. It becomes much easier to get to a good solution for everyone.

Now, let’s look at how to practice active listening.

How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Here are the steps to being an active listener. This list may seem a little extensive and truthfully, it is kind of long.

Don’t think of it as a checklist that you have to mark off each point as you accomplish it. Rather, view it as a general guideline.

If you can accomplish most of these in important conversations, you are on your way to becoming an active listener!

1. Maintain Eye Contact

You don’t have to be laser focused on someone’s eyes with your own. You do, however, have to maintain regular eye contact with them. This is really more for you than for them.

When you maintain regular eye contact, you are forced to pay attention to that person. It’s less easier to get distracted.

It also conveys to the other person that you care enough about what’s being said that you are looking at them while they speak.

2. Don’t Fidget Too Much

Look, re-arranging and getting comfortable from time to time is fine. What’s not fine is constantly playing with a pen or picking up your phone or looking all over the place.

Being fidgety gives the impression that you aren’t interested in what the other person is saying.

3. No Interrupting

Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you need to get clarification on a certain point, it’s okay to ask politely.

What you don’t want to be doing is interrupting someone every other sentence to make your own point. Or to add your own color into the conversation.

What you are supposed to be doing is listening, not talking.

4. Watch the Non Verbal Clues

Much of communication happens in a non-verbal manner. That means you can pick up a lot of what a person is communicating to you through their body language and not the actual words coming out of their mouths.

Watch the non verbal clues that the other person is giving off while speaking. If they are uncomfortable, they might fidget. If they are nervous, they may not look you in the eye. These types of non verbal clues can help you hone in on how the other person is feeling.

5. Restate and Clarify

Sometimes when someone is speaking to us, it’s not as clear as we’d like. When needed, restate what the other person has said and don’t be afraid to clarify.

You can say things like “To make sure I understand what I am hearing you say is ….. is that correct?”.

Also, saying something like “So what I am hearing is ….. and”. This gives the other person an opportunity to ensure they are telling you everything they need to. It also shows that you care enough to ask a question to make sure you understand.

6. Use Some Encouragers

When someone has a hard time getting through everything, it’s okay to provide some light encouragement here and there to get them to continue speaking or sharing more details.

You don’t want to rush into it but when someone seems to be in the middle of telling a story and comes to a halt, you can say something short like “and then” or “what happened next” or “did Bob have a response to that”.

Nothing that is going to take over the conversation but small pieces of encouragement here and there as needed.

7. Probing

It’s perfectly fine to probe for more information when needed. Remember that your goal isn’t to take over the conversation, it’s to actively listen to the other person.

Now when you feel there could be more relevant information that hasn’t come out yet, it’s fine to ask a few probing questions.

Asking things such as “how did that make you feel” or “what do you think is the best way to handle that situation” are good ways to get the other person to share more about how they feel. This helps you understand the situation better.

8. Minimal Talking

I’ve hinted at it numerous times during the step by step process to active listening but, it’s worth its own bullet point.

Remember, to be an active listener, you should listen. You are seeking to really listen and understand the other person. Your role here is not to talk much.

I can certainly have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when I have something to add. I have to take an inward deep breath, pause, and keep my mouth shut. I then ensure I am focused on what the other person is telling me.

Being an active listener means listening with minimal talking.

9. Validate

Going back to how we all seek to be understood, it’s a good idea to validate the other person. Saying things such as “I understand how that would upset you” and “I probably would have reacted the same way” makes the other person feel like you are on their side.

Like you empathize with them and understand them. This again will help form trust in the conversation and in the relationship. Validating someone is huge.

The Bottom Line

There you have it. A step by step guide on how to practice active listening.

Strong communication skills will help you in every relationship in your life. This includes work and personal relationships. If you can develop active listening skills, you will give your communication skills a huge boost.

Listening is half of all communication. Do yourself a favor and work on your active listening skills. It can have a dramatic impact on the success you have at work and in your close personal relationships.

  • How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home
  • 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home
  • How to Work with Different Communication Styles in the Office
  • The Purpose of Listening: To Understand, Not Reply
  • Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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