On my route to and from work, I pass a small billboard that says, “It’s not about asking someone how they’re doing, it’s about listening when they answer.” The first few times I passed the billboard, I absentmindedly read the statement and didn’t think much of it. One morning, after driving by and reading those same words, I began picturing myself greeting friends and strangers by asking them how they’re doing. It’s something that I do often, and people often greet me the same way. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was how often we greet people with that question – how are you doing? – without pausing to listen to the answer. For many of us, the question, “how are you doing?” has become a formality, a gesture we offer to others in the place of an honest inquiry. What would it be like if we made it a point to earnestly ask others how they are doing, and to earnestly listen to their reply?
Active listening is more than just hearing what someone else is saying. Active listening is giving your physical, emotional, and mental attention to someone. The difference between the two is huge. AEL (Active-Empathetic Listening) is taught in a wide range of disciplines, from sales professionals to mental health professionals.1 Mental health nurses are taught that practicing AEL with their clients helps them feel accepted and cared for, significant and respected, willing to trust and less isolated.2
Ideally, we can offer those positive reinforcements to everyone we engage with. The difference between active listening and hearing is the difference between being engaged and being disengaged with whomever we are communicating.
Common Listening Errors
The most common mistakes we make when listening to others are:
- Listening to our own brain noise. We let our minds drift or daydream and we don’t give our mental attention to what someone is saying.
- We think about what we are going to say.
- We judge what the other person is saying.
- We have a certain outcome or goal in mind while listening.3
There are some simple strategies that can be implemented in your day-to-day engagements that will help you avoid common communication pitfalls and strengthen your empathetic listening skills.
Six Tips to Strengthen your Active Listening Skills 4
- Nonverbal involvement in conversation
Maintain eye contact with the speaker, and observe their body language. Try not to become distracted with passerbys or surrounding environment.
Pay attention to the speaker instead of your thoughts
You will have thoughts pass through your mind during conversation, but try to observe them from a distance. Instead of engaging your thoughts, re-engage in what the speaker is saying.
- Practice Non-Judgment
Receive the other person’s message without judgment or bias. It is more important to be present in the moment with the speaker than to evaluate whether you agree or disagree with what they are saying.
- Accept Silence
Instead of rushing to fill silence, allow for quiet within a conversation. Making room for silence can allow you and the other person to receive communication and reflect on it, which allows for the process to continue in a more meaningful manner.
- Reiterate and/or paraphrase
Paraphrasing can be an effective way to keep yourself engaged in a conversation and to show the speaker that you are listening and understand what they are communicating.
- Ask questions
Instead of telling your own story related to a given topic, ask an open question that encourages the other person to follow up with more insight. Asking meaningful and respectful questions shows that you are attentive and makes the other person feel they are worthy of respect.
In an increasingly noisy world, with more and more people trying to talk over each other to share their thoughts and ideas, there is a growing demand to be heard – to be listened to. Whether in your professional or personal life, if you have something you need to say, you may want to start by trying to listen. By actively listening, you can encourage a healthy communication process that will carry what others have to say and what you have to say much farther.
Christiana Frank is a consultant, speaker, coach, and program developer. For over 21 years, she has been helping corporate teams, educational institutions, and mental health facilities grow their organization, connect with their clients, and engage the world at large. Christiana’s passion is to meet her clients’ needs and embed her expertise into their existing methodologies, thereby creating stronger, healthier systems. Along with her team of experts, Christiana ensures the growth and success of every client by embracing all perspectives and cultural differences. For a free consult, or to bring Christiana and her team to you, please email [email protected]