Are you an active or passive listener? If given a potent truth serum, most of us would be forced to admit that we’re guilty of passive listening. That is, we hear others speak but we don’t really give our full attention to their message.
Active listening, on the other hand, means fully engaging in the conversation and having the desire to understand what the other person is trying to convey. It means expressing interest and offering verbal and non-verbal cues to your conversation partner. Active listening is, without question, one of the most important interpersonal skills because it helps you to retain information more effectively and connect with others on a deeper level.
In this article, we’ll share the main types of active listening exercises and the best ways to practice them so you can improve your interpersonal communication. Let’s dive in!
4 Important Types of Active Listening Exercises
If you want to improve leg strength, you must practice specific strength training exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts. If you want to become a better listener, you’ll also need to practice specific listening exercises. Here are four to get you started:
1) Reflective Listening
Reflective listening entails focusing on the thoughts and feelings of another person and understanding their message from their point of view. This is a special type of active listening exercise that requires respect and a desire to deeply understand the speaker.
There is a simple test you can do to see whether or not you are truly involved in reflective listening. Simply ask yourself, “What is this person dealing with right now?” If you have the answer to this question, you are listening respectfully and actively.
Reflective listening can be useful in a variety of situations. You can use it when trying to help someone solve a problem or challenge. Business leaders can use reflective listening effectively for conflict resolution and negotiations. And friends and romantic partners can rely on reflective listening to build trust and deeper connections.
2) Empathetic Listening
Empathic listening goes beyond simply understanding the speaker’s message and focuses on making an emotional connection. To do this, the listener looks for similarities between their experience and the speakers to offer them the 3 Cs: care, compassion, and concern.
One of the hallmarks of empathic listening requires you to offer support and encouragement to the speaker instead of advice or criticism. You’ll also need to offer your time. Tapping into emotions and processing takes time, and so empathic listening will require you to silence the mental “to-do” list in your head and just be there with the other person, fully engaged.
3) Informational Listening
One of the best active listening activities is information listening, which is entirely goal-based. The objective is to capture as much information and data as you can, postponing processing and critical thinking until later.
A good example of informational listening is when university students attend a lecture. They are not active participants in the conversation but are fully engaged in listening, often taking notes to avoid missing a single important piece of information.
In the corporate world, informational listening occurs when team members listen to reports, briefings, and presentations. And often during these important meetings, there is a notetaker keeping track of everything that is said so the group can refer back later.
4) Critical Listening
Critical listening requires you to not only give your full attention to what is being said but to then also to evaluate and analyze the information that you are receiving in real time. This is one of the most active forms of listening exercises! In most cases of active listening, making judgments is frowned upon. But critical thinking is necessary in some very important circumstances.
For instance, in just about every sales scenario, the sales rep is trying to persuade a prospect who is, hopefully, using critical thinking to ascertain whether he wants to pull the trigger and make the purchase.
When we listen to politicians running for office, we listen closely to what they are saying while also analyzing whether we believe what they say or if their message aligns with our values.
The key to critical thinking is to first ensure you are understanding what the speaker is saying BEFORE you evaluate their message.
How to Practice Active Listening Exercises
Now that you understand the importance of active listening activities, how can you begin to put them into practice? By following these tips for awesome communication:
- Pay Close Attention
Your top priority is to give the speaker your full, undivided attention. Focus on their words as well as their body language. What are both conveying to you? Remember, actions often speak louder than words, so notice the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal cues.
Giving your full attention means maintaining healthy eye contact with the speaker, Don’t scan the room or, even worse, look down at your phone. When you find your mind begins to wander, it most likely will bring back your attention. Get into the habit of becoming aware of when your attention has waned and simply bring it back.
- Be Patient
The speaker may take some time before they get to their point. This is natural and it’s important to be patient. This active listening activity can help you move the conversation along because you are encouraged to ask clarifying questions, which may prompt the speaker to try a new avenue of thought.
- Create a Safe and Quiet Environment
Be sure to give the speaker non-verbal cues to make them know you are listening intently. In addition to great eye contact, be sure to smile and nod your head. This will make your speaker feel safe and secure in sharing their thoughts and ideas with you.
Equally important is to provide a quiet environment. It’s important to make space for silence. So many people feel they need to begin speaking to fill in those moments of awkward silence. But it’s never a good idea to talk for the sake of talking. Let your speaker use the silence to reflect on their messaging.
- Don’t Interrupt
Interrupting someone while they are speaking demonstrates that you feel your thoughts and opinions are superior. This is not the message you want to send with active listening. Interrupting someone not only sends the wrong message but also inhibits your ability to comprehend their message, learn something new and/or gain a fresh perspective.
- Try Paraphrasing
Don’t settle for shallow understanding, always go for the deeper meaning. To do this, try paraphrasing what has been said to see if you fully received the message. Paraphrasing is an active listening activity that gives the speaker the opportunity to clarify and further explain their thoughts. In addition, paraphrasing instills trust and security in the speaker because you show that you are making an effort to understand them.
- Ask Questions
Another way to gain a deeper understanding is to ask questions. But only once the speaker has finished. Forgo yes or no questions and instead focus on asking open-ended questions that invite the speaker to elaborate and offer further details.
- Withhold Judgment
Unless you are in a situation where critical listening is necessary, be sure to withhold judgment when actively listening. Judging too quickly stops you from taking in the entire message. We all have different beliefs, opinions, and experiences. Don’t let yours turn you off from learning something new.
- Use Positive Body Language
Show the speaker that you are fully engaged with your body language. Sit forward in your chair, nod your head occasionally, smile, and remember to maintain that eye contact.
- Avoid Distractions
As you commit to practicing active listening exercises you will discover just how many internal and external distractions there are that can block your success. External distractions are things like noise in the next room or the fact you’re too cold to concentrate. Internal distractions include intrusive thoughts and emotions. When you notice that any distraction is pulling your attention, bring your focus back.
Active listening exercises are incredibly important in boosting your communication skills, which will help both your personal and professional life. Be sure to use every opportunity to practice these listening exercises. And it will take practice! But don’t get discouraged by the challenge of active listening. If it were easy everyone would do it. The effort is worth it when you see your relationships thrive!