Communication isn’t just about talking, writing and putting out messages. Communicating effectively is a learned skill that everyone who works in communication should work on every day. A vital part of communication is active listening and it is possibly one of the hardest parts of being a professional communicator.

Why is it important?

Unless you truly understand who you are communicating with and what you need to communicate, you’ll never be successful. Active listening means going deeper than just hearing what someone tells you and converting it into a press release or a social media post.

Active listening, as opposed to passive listening, is an important part of your communication skill set because it builds openness and honesty. When you pay attention the other person feels heard. Being attentive in your listening cuts down on miscommunication, which, when you’re in the business of communications, is absolutely critical.

Here are some of our simple tips to help you up your active listening game

Put the phone down!

Saying to someone that you’re listening to them while you text someone. That definitely is not active listening. Multi-tasking is a misnomer. There are many research studies that show the human mind and brain lack the ‘architecture’ to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. So, if someone wants a moment of your time. Finish what you are doing. Put the phone down and engage fully with that person.

Be fully present

You’re in your office with the news running on the TV, social media constantly updating, emails coming in, two phones and maybe a radio running in the background. As soon as someone comes to you at your desk, be sure to move away from this environment and find a quiet space so you can be fully present. This also goes the same for daydreaming, thinking about going to the grocery store and wondering what your dog/cat/children are up to. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Asking "yes or no" questions rarely encourages beneficial conversation. Asking open-ended questions such as ‘can you tell me some more about that?’ or ‘how do you think we could respond to this?’ will help them feel that you are full engaged and also allow them to expand on what they want to tell you.

Watch for non-verbal clues

Quite often, what people say doesn’t match their body language. By watching for signs about how someone is feeling, you will be able to guide the conversation more effectively. Speaking quickly, looking in a different direction may indicate they are nervous and you might have to step up in making them feel comfortable. Equally, if they are talking slowly, they could be distracted or tired, so you may need to work harder to get the information you need. 

As much as 65% of a person's communication is unspoken, so it’s worth keeping that in mind. Paying attention to these nonverbal cues can tell you a lot about the person and what they are trying to say. If they talk fast, for instance, this could be a sign that they are nervous or anxious. Be mindful of your own body language too - you’re going to be giving away just as much so always strive to have what you say and how you act be congruent.

Reflect back on what you’ve heard

Firstly, always acknowledge what someone has said so they feel heard. Then, when the time is right, paraphrase what they have said. This works in two ways. It shows that you have understood what they have said but also helps you to commit it to memory. This will help keep any potential miscommunication to a minimum.

Never be afraid to ask for clarification. People are often concerned about looking silly, but if you ask a simple question now, you’ll save bigger mistakes later down the line.

Want to be a real pro in active listening? Here are some recommendations for great reads.

Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone Your Communication Skills by Nixaly Leonardo LCSW

Effective Communication at Work: A practical guide to strengthen communication skills, empathic listening, conversation and dialogue skills to be successful at work by Liam Harris

Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times: A Practical Guide to Leadership Paperback by Diana Peterson-More

September 26, 2022

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