One of the tools that great listeners use is active listening. This type of listening involves both verbal and non-verbal communication and is a highly effective form of communication. When all parties of a conversation use active listening, the outcomes are almost always favorable. 

What is active listening? 

Active listening is a technique used to maximize communication and ensure people feel heard and understood. Active listening has three main components

  • It’s reflective
  • It’s empathic
  • It’s purposeful 

Active listening is reflective- One of the keys to active listening is reflecting. Reflecting happens when the listener pays close attention to what is being said and offers a summary of what they heard before moving on. This helps the speaker know what they’ve said was heard in the way they intended. If the speaker feels misunderstood or wants to clarify their point, reflective listening helps. Using reflective listening and sharing a summary of what was heard, people stay on the same page with their communication. 

Active listening is empathic- Empathic listening is designed to encourage and support. Empathy can be shown verbally and non-verbally. Saying things like “I understand” or “mmm hmm” can encourage a speaker. Nodding our head, using eye contact, and having an open body stance can also indicate empathy. Empathy creates comfort and encourages other people to speak freely, openly, and honestly about their situation. 

Active listening is purposeful- Using the active listening techniques should be purposeful. Though they may become second nature over time, it’s best to use the techniques on purpose when having conversations. Being self-aware and making sure you are asking questions, using empathy, avoiding distractions, reflecting, and encouraging should be top of mind. Doing your best to have high-quality conversations will help them go better. 

Active listening is a tool used by professional communicators like counselors, mediators, and others but it doesn’t need to be limited to professionals. Anyone can use active listening and build stronger relationships and become better listeners.  

Practical uses for active listening

Use active listening with your family. Reflect what they are saying and ask clarifying questions when things don’t make sense. Your family will appreciate you trying to understand what they are saying and feel heard. 

Use active listening in the marketplace. When you run up against someone who is frustrated, use active listening to help them calm down and feel heard. Many times, people who seem grumpy or agitated can be turned around by using reflection and empathy. This applies to staff you may encounter as a customer or customers who may be upset with you. 

Half the battle of good communication is effectively listening to what is being said. Using active listening helps reduce miscommunication and bridges the gap towards complete understanding. It’s an excellent way to listen better and create high-quality communication.  

Anne McGurty

Anne McGurty is a business strategist specializing in creating systems and structures for the creative entrepreneur. She is also a PMP, Project Management Professional, with over 30 years of experience working with corporations and small businesses to improve communication, identify risks, and manage outstanding issues and help keep projects on schedule, adding value, saving time, and money. Anne is passionate about the role of a consultant and coach to her clients and brings a healthy, life balance perspective to her approach as she is a thriving cancer survivor.

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