8 Tips To Improve Your Active Listening Skills

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October 31, 2022

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Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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8 Tips To Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Active listening is a skill that many people lack because it's not something that we are accustomed to practicing. Body language helps to spot when someone has poor communication skills like poor eye contact, uninterested facial expression, inattentive body posture, or talking over another person. But active listening is harder to identify because it's a combination of only two things: paying attention and making it clear that you are paying attention using nonverbal communication. 

If you aren't aware of how others are demonstrating their ability to give good active listening, you may feel like you're doing a good job of actively listening when, in fact, you aren't even close.

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is the process of paying close attention to the other person's body language, tone and choice of words. The goal is to communicate, understand people and build trust. If it's done well, you can use these techniques to really connect with someone - even strangers or new contacts. This may mean paying attention to their body language to help interpret their words–it also may mean verbally acknowledging what they say and replying with relevant comments.

According to the University of Missouri, 45% of communication is listening, and yet the average person remembers around 25-50% of what they hear.  That means that when you’re venting to a friend, having a meeting with your boss, or chatting with a customer, most of what you say goes in one ear and out the other.  

The difference between active and passive listening lies in your reaction.  While passive listening means not reacting at all, active listening usually involves verbal or physical reactions to encourage the speaker to continue. These reactions show you’re listening to what’s being said without interrupting the speaker with your own thoughts.

What Are The Benefits Of Active Listening?

Active listening will help you in almost every area of life, from being an awesome friend to being a more effective and mindful leader. It’s also an essential part of civil discourse: you must listen in order to share a discursive space. When you listen actively, you respect the person you're communicating with and gain the information you need to be a better friend, better leader and colleague.

The 3 A’s Of Active Listening

The three A’s of active listening are attention, attitude, and adjustment.  Attention requires you to be fully in tune to everything the speaker communicates, including their words, gestures, and facial expressions.  Eliminating distractions and maintaining eye contact are vital components of paying close attention to the speaker.

When actively listening, you need to have a positive and open-minded attitude.  A scowl or an eye roll can shut down the other speaker and make them less willing to be honest with you.  Lastly, you need to be able to adjust your gestures and body language in order to react to what you’re hearing.  Nobody wants to talk to a blank wall, which is why it’s important to show you’re receiving the information being given to you (without being too over-the-top).

Key Points In Becoming An Active Listener

There are a few tips and techniques you can use to become an active listener in civil dialogue. If you practice these techniques regularly for self-improvement, you’ll become a better communicator. You can boost your productivity in the workplace, and improve relationships in and outside of work via accurate collaboration skills.  

So, what exactly are the active listening skills you can learn?  Here are 8 tips for how to be a better active listener:

1. Be present

It’s impossible to be an active listener when your mind is elsewhere.  In order to take in everything that’s being communicated to you, avoid distractions, communication barriers and pay attention.  Mute your phone, make eye contact with the person speaking to you, and wait to formulate a response.  If you find your thoughts wandering, gently bring yourself back to the conversation.

2. Avoid interrupting

It can be tempting to jump in with helpful advice or anecdotes, but avoid interrupting at all costs.  Wait until the person has finished speaking to make sure that you fully understand what it is they’re trying to say.  If you interrupt, you run the risk of cutting them off before they give you all the relevant information.  If you feel as though you have something you need to say, make a mental note to bring it up later and display respect for other opinions

3. Defer judgment

We can’t make an accurate judgment of what we’re being told before we know everything.  Defer judgment until the conversation is over to avoid polluting your understanding of the speaker’s message.  If you do find yourself making a judgment, try to avoid interrupting with judgmental comments or leading questions.  Be ready to change your mind at any moment based on new information and find common ground.

4. Pay attention to your body language

Your body language might be saying something even if your words aren’t.  If you’re closed off and making gestures or facial expressions that express judgment or discontent, this is just as bad as interrupting.  Make sure you’re remaining open and interested in what the other person is saying.  Make affirmative body movements by nodding, smiling, or peppering in a few comments that encourage the speaker to keep going.

5. Ask follow-up questions

Active listening is primarily about accurately receiving all the information you can and how to show respect.  If you find yourself confused about what’s being said, ask follow-up questions to clarify the speaker’s points.  Make sure you understand what’s actually being said without allowing your own assumptions to fill in the gaps.

6. Practice civil discourse 

Practicing civil discourse is a great way to sharpen your active listening skills.  Be mindful of your body language, listen carefully even when you disagree, and ask questions to help understand different perspectives from your own.

7. Try repeating what they are saying 

Sometimes the best way to clarify what’s being said is to repeat it back to the speaker.  Try using sentences like “What I’m hearing is…” and “So you’re saying…” to make sure you understand what they are saying.

8. Don't jump to conclusions 

As humans, we’re wired to make quick judgments about things.  It’s important to refrain from jumping to conclusions, however, as this can cause you to tune out what’s being said.

Examples Of Active Listening

Active listening is easy to recognize, even if it takes some work to do.  To train yourself to become an active listener, check out this example of active listening:

Jeff: Hey, do you mind if I talk to you about something that’s been on my mind?

Rachel: Sure!  Let me just put my phone on silent so you have my full attention.

Jeff: Thank you.  I just need to vent about something that happened at work.

Rachel: Of course.  Tell me more.

Jeff: My boss is always breathing down my neck, which makes it hard to concentrate.  I’m always afraid of making mistakes.

Rachel: That must be really difficult to deal with.

Jeff: It is.  Then today he criticized me in front of everyone in a meeting.

Rachel: How did that make you feel?

Jeff: It was humiliating.  I feel like quitting.  But I really love this job, and I don’t want to let this get in the way of that.

Rachel: I understand.  I bet you could use some time to think about what you want to do.

Jeff: Yeah, I think so.  Thank you for listening, I think I just needed to tell someone about it.

Be a better communicator, leader and listener by following these tips.  It won’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it consistently over time, your communication skills will improve.  Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself in every conversation focusing on the other person and what they have to say.

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