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Active listening – how to truly listen

Active listening - how to truly listen

Image by Colleen Tighe © The Balance 2019

What’s active listening, and why is it important for your career? Active listening is the process by which an individual secures information from another individual or group.

It involves paying attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking the time to understand what the speaker is discussing. The “active” element involves taking steps to draw out details that might not otherwise be shared.  

Active listeners avoid interrupting at all costs, summarize and repeat back what they have heard, and observe body language to give them an extra level of understanding.

Active listening is a helpful skill for any worker to develop. It helps you truly understand what people are saying in conversations and meetings (and not just what you want to hear, or think you hear).

It’s also a particularly useful tool to use during job interviews, since it can help you build a positive rapport with your interviewer.

What Is Active Listening?

Like critical thinking and problem-solving, active listening is a soft skill that’s held in high regard by employers. When interviewing for jobs, using active listening techniques can help show the interviewer how your interpersonal skills can draw people out.

Active listening redirects your focus from what is going on inside of your head to the needs of your prospective employer or interviewer. This technique can help reduce your nervousness during an interview.

By placing your focus, through active listening, squarely upon the interviewer, you prove that you:

  • Are interested in the organization’s challenges and successes
  • Are ready to help them problem-solve work issues
  • Are a team player as opposed to being nothing more than a self-absorbed job candidate.

It’s important to not interrupt, or worse, try to answer the question before you know what the interviewer is asking.

Listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions, ask for clarification if necessary, and wait until the interviewer has finished talking to respond.

Examples of Active Listening Techniques

There are plenty of active listening techniques that will improve the impression you can make at a job interview.

Active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport
  • Demonstrating concern
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding
  • Using nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact, and leaning forward
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding

Examples of Active Listening Responses

It’s often easier to learn by reading examples. Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.” “I was really impressed to read on your website how you donate 5% of each sale to charity.”
  • Demonstrating concern: “I’m eager to help; I know you’re going through some tough challenges.” “I know how hard a corporate restructuring can be. How is staff morale at this point?”
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you’re saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.” “So, you think that we need to build up our social media marketing efforts.”
  • Brief verbal affirmation: “I understand that you’d like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
  • Asking open-ended questions: “I can see that John’s criticism was very upsetting to you. Which aspect of his critique was most disturbing?” “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”
  • Asking specific questions: “How long do you expect your hiring process to last?” “What is your average rate of staff turnover?”
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion: “Tell me more about your proposal to reorganize the department.” “Can you please provide some history for me regarding your relationship with your former business partner?”
  • Disclosing similar situations: “I was also conflicted about returning to work after the birth of my son.” “I had the responsibility of terminating some of my personnel, due to downsizing, over the last two years. Even if it’s necessary, it never gets easier.”

More Active Listening Skills

  • Validation
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Courtesy
  • Professionalism
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Transparency
  • Integrity
  • Humility
  • Proactivity
  • Accepting Constructive Criticism
  • Creating and Managing Expectations
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Understanding
  • Observation
  • Attention to Detail
  • Vocal Tone
  • Sensitivity to Religious and Ethnic Diversity
  • Self-Awareness
  • Situational Awareness
  • Interpretation
  • Identify and Manage Emotions
  • Understanding Hidden Needs of Others
  • Body Language
  • Facilitating Group Discussion
  • Reaching Consensus
  • Collaboration

By employing these active listening techniques, you will impress your interviewer as a thoughtful, analytical, highly desirable candidate for the position. Think about possible situations that may occur during an interview and come up with strategies to allow you to listen actively.

Improving Your Skills

Never underestimate the power of soft skills (also known as people skills) like active listening. Your CV or resume may look great, with a strong array of professional experience and training, but employers are also looking for people who have the ability to communicate and to team well with others.

Important soft skills (besides active listening) include problem-solving, flexibility, self-motivation, leadership, and teamwork—all of which need to be highlighted both on your resume and during a personal interview.

Especially for young, first-time job candidates with limited work experience, these people skills often are the deciding factor in whether an employer will be willing to take the risk in hiring someone young over others who may have more experience (but possibly weaker interpersonal communications talents).

Looking to strengthen your soft skills? One great way is to take these free online courses in subjects like public speaking, problem-solving and decision making, and how to be happy in your workplace.

Why active listening is important, and how to do it.

Posted Jun 02, 2020

Active listening - how to truly listen

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” —M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

Active listening is a way of listening that involves full attention to what is being said for the primary purpose of understanding the speaker. It is an important skill set for many different circumstances, ranging from the therapist’s office to the business world. If we are not listening actively, we are likely to miss the real message.

In my experience as a clinician, the ability to use active listening is essential for the long-term happiness of most couples. Attachment Theory has helped us understand that the most basic emotional needs of human beings include the need to be heard and the need to feel important to our partners (Johnson, 2008). One of the most common complaints that I hear during couples counseling sessions is one partner saying to the other: “You never listen to me!”

Social science research also evidences the crucial importance of active listening. Psychologist Willard Harley identified the 10 most common emotional needs of individuals in partner relationships (Harley, 2001). Among these top 10 was the need for “intimate conversation.” He described this need as being met by having discussions to inform or ask questions, discussing topics of mutual interest, and the willingness to listen to each other. More to the point, intimate conversation required giving and receiving undivided attention.

How to be an active listener

1. Listen without making judgments or taking a position on an issue. Gain an understanding of the situation from the other’s point of view.

2. Allow the speaker to finish thoughts without interruption. This usually includes brief periods of silence, such as a few seconds. It may take some practice before being able to know how long to wait before making some type of response. If unsure, it is always better to wait too long rather than speak too soon and interrupt the speaker’s thoughts.

3. Show that your attention is focused. Make eye contact, lean in towards the speaker when your interest peaks, and share any humor with a smile or other natural response.

4. Repeat what you have heard to check for accuracy. Use the speaker’s exact words when in doubt that you have heard accurately; more often, it is better to paraphrase what was said.

5. Ask questions as needed when you don’t understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the main point of their statement.

6. Give a short summary to indicate that you have heard and understood what was said.

7. Optional: As the final step, but not sooner, you may choose to share similar situations that you’ve experienced or your own views about the issue. You may even share a completely different opinion than that expressed, as long as that sharing is done after you have understood what was communicated to you.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What to avoid during active listening

1. Interrupting a sentence. Even if there is a long pause, one should first encourage the completion of the thought by the speaker.

2. Failing to make eye contact. Breaks from eye contact are normal and expected, but a total lack of eye contact communicates a lack of attention.

3. Rushing the speaker. This can be a challenge, particularly when the speaker goes into excessive or unrelated details to tell their story. Do your best to politely encourage them to move along with the point.

4. Getting distracted by other thoughts, or events nearby, and losing focus. Daydreaming while pretending to listen is probably only going to frustrate the speaker.

5. Over focus upon certain details, or asking about minor details that distract from the speaker’s point.

6. Changing the subject abruptly. This includes interjecting an account of “something similar that happened to me.”

7. Making jokes or sarcastic comments which distract from the points being made. Save the humor for later in the conversation.

8. Listening to decide what your reply should be. This is a common risk when the speaker is expressing a complaint and the listener begins to feel defensive. The natural tendency would be to shift focus to “how will I defend myself from this accusation?” or “how will I prove them wrong?” If you have actively listened, you may learn that you don’t need to defend yourself. Your partner may not be blaming you for anything. If blame has been thrown at you, you will have your chance to speak your own thoughts after you’ve listened to the complaint.

“There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As the great American poet Emerson suggested, you will have your turn to talk. There is really nothing to gain in a partner relationship by skipping the first step: active listening. Very often, the partner who needs to be heard is simply needing to vent some frustration and to know that you care enough to listen, even if there’s nothing you can do to “fix the problem.” Listening attentively may be the best thing you can do to create a more satisfying partnership.

We all need to be heard by those closest to us, regardless of whether we’re right or wrong, and rational or irrational. Whatever the circumstances, the process of listening has a high likelihood of transforming the relationship in a positive way.

Johnson, Susan (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, & Company.

Harley, Willard F. (2001). His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Fifteenth Anniversary Edition. Revell Publishing.

Why active listening is important, and how to do it.

Posted Jun 02, 2020

Active listening - how to truly listen

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” —M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

Active listening is a way of listening that involves full attention to what is being said for the primary purpose of understanding the speaker. It is an important skill set for many different circumstances, ranging from the therapist’s office to the business world. If we are not listening actively, we are likely to miss the real message.

In my experience as a clinician, the ability to use active listening is essential for the long-term happiness of most couples. Attachment Theory has helped us understand that the most basic emotional needs of human beings include the need to be heard and the need to feel important to our partners (Johnson, 2008). One of the most common complaints that I hear during couples counseling sessions is one partner saying to the other: “You never listen to me!”

Social science research also evidences the crucial importance of active listening. Psychologist Willard Harley identified the 10 most common emotional needs of individuals in partner relationships (Harley, 2001). Among these top 10 was the need for “intimate conversation.” He described this need as being met by having discussions to inform or ask questions, discussing topics of mutual interest, and the willingness to listen to each other. More to the point, intimate conversation required giving and receiving undivided attention.

How to be an active listener

1. Listen without making judgments or taking a position on an issue. Gain an understanding of the situation from the other’s point of view.

2. Allow the speaker to finish thoughts without interruption. This usually includes brief periods of silence, such as a few seconds. It may take some practice before being able to know how long to wait before making some type of response. If unsure, it is always better to wait too long rather than speak too soon and interrupt the speaker’s thoughts.

3. Show that your attention is focused. Make eye contact, lean in towards the speaker when your interest peaks, and share any humor with a smile or other natural response.

4. Repeat what you have heard to check for accuracy. Use the speaker’s exact words when in doubt that you have heard accurately; more often, it is better to paraphrase what was said.

5. Ask questions as needed when you don’t understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the main point of their statement.

6. Give a short summary to indicate that you have heard and understood what was said.

7. Optional: As the final step, but not sooner, you may choose to share similar situations that you’ve experienced or your own views about the issue. You may even share a completely different opinion than that expressed, as long as that sharing is done after you have understood what was communicated to you.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What to avoid during active listening

1. Interrupting a sentence. Even if there is a long pause, one should first encourage the completion of the thought by the speaker.

2. Failing to make eye contact. Breaks from eye contact are normal and expected, but a total lack of eye contact communicates a lack of attention.

3. Rushing the speaker. This can be a challenge, particularly when the speaker goes into excessive or unrelated details to tell their story. Do your best to politely encourage them to move along with the point.

4. Getting distracted by other thoughts, or events nearby, and losing focus. Daydreaming while pretending to listen is probably only going to frustrate the speaker.

5. Over focus upon certain details, or asking about minor details that distract from the speaker’s point.

6. Changing the subject abruptly. This includes interjecting an account of “something similar that happened to me.”

7. Making jokes or sarcastic comments which distract from the points being made. Save the humor for later in the conversation.

8. Listening to decide what your reply should be. This is a common risk when the speaker is expressing a complaint and the listener begins to feel defensive. The natural tendency would be to shift focus to “how will I defend myself from this accusation?” or “how will I prove them wrong?” If you have actively listened, you may learn that you don’t need to defend yourself. Your partner may not be blaming you for anything. If blame has been thrown at you, you will have your chance to speak your own thoughts after you’ve listened to the complaint.

“There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As the great American poet Emerson suggested, you will have your turn to talk. There is really nothing to gain in a partner relationship by skipping the first step: active listening. Very often, the partner who needs to be heard is simply needing to vent some frustration and to know that you care enough to listen, even if there’s nothing you can do to “fix the problem.” Listening attentively may be the best thing you can do to create a more satisfying partnership.

We all need to be heard by those closest to us, regardless of whether we’re right or wrong, and rational or irrational. Whatever the circumstances, the process of listening has a high likelihood of transforming the relationship in a positive way.

Johnson, Susan (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, & Company.

Harley, Willard F. (2001). His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Fifteenth Anniversary Edition. Revell Publishing.

Active listening - how to truly listen

In this article, we’ll talk about active listening and how to use it as a tool to release stress and distress and get in touch with our resilience, resourcefulness, and creativity to make us more effective.

As individual clients dig into their emotional basement, I try to get them to connect outside of themselves as well. One tool that helps begin the thread of communication between partners is called Active Listening. Active listening asks couples to set aside time to truly listen and actually hear each other, one at a time.

Why Try Active Listening

I often suggest that couples have active listening “sessions”. These “sessions” provide a safe space for both parties to talk about their thoughts, feelings, frustrations, fears, and doubts. In this safe space, couples can share whatever is on their minds without concern about repercussions.

In these “sessions”

  1. Each person is given a chance to listen and to speak .
  2. The listener does not judge, try to fix or defend themselves.
  3. The listener appreciates and listens to each word, idea, thought, and feeling expressed.
  4. As the talking and listening occur, the speaker can experience a peak and release of the feelings and then a letting go of upsets, distress, or resentments.
  5. Take Turns!

These active listening sessions work best when you set a time. Start slow. Try it for ten minutes and then gradually, with practice, extend it to thirty minutes. If you can learn to tolerate your feelings about your partner’s thoughts and feelings, you can hold a magnificent space for personal and relationship transformation.

How To Practice Active Listening

1. Be in the right frame of mind. Decide who will be the speaker and who will be the active listener. As the listener, give your undivided attention. Maintain good eye contact and align your body so that you are facing your partner.

2. Make it clear that you are in an active listening “session”. Remember that whatever is said “in session” stays in the session (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas). For the record, what is expressed in the session cannot be used against you or brought up without your permission outside of the session context.

3. Set the timer.

4. The speaker starts talking and makes it a point to keep it short so the listener can take it all in.

5. The listener acknowledges that the message was heard with verbal comments like, “What I hear you saying is . . .” After the speaker has finished talking, the listener asks, “Is that correct?”

6. The speaker indicates “Yes” or “No”, and if the listener missed something or did not hear the speaker’s meaning accurately, then the speaker repeats the information. The listener then repeats the corrected information.

7. The listener then asks, “Is there anything more you’d like to add?”

The point is to stick to the precise information the speaker is sharing without adding your own interpretations, attempts to influence, fix, or otherwise embellish what your partner is actually saying. Keep it simple. Sticking to the script creates a safe space to communicate within the exercise and interrupts the usual habits of conversation.

Hear What People Are Really Saying

Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

  • We listen to obtain information.
  • We listen to understand.
  • We listen for enjoyment.
  • We listen to learn.

Given all the listening that we do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact, most of us are not, and research suggests that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear, as described by Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers, or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.

Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50 percent, but what if they’re not?

Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you can improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success!

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness . Understanding your own personal style of communicating will go a long way toward helping you to create good and lasting impressions with others.

About Active Listening

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.

In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying.

If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating his or her words mentally as he says them – this will reinforce his message and help you to stay focused.

To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what she is saying.

To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it’s something you want to avoid.

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Improve your listening skills to help others feel truly heard.

Active listening - how to truly listen

By Dr Daniel Farrant, a senior clinical psychologist and Mentemia’s Clinical Product Specialist.

Active listening is a way to listen and to show you’re listening. It helps to build rapport and allow someone to feel comfortable talking to you. It also helps other people feel heard and understood.

The concept may sound simple, but it takes some practice. Here’s our guide to active listening. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but general guidelines to think about and experiment with.

How to practice active listening

Active listening is all about attention.

Show someone you’re paying attention to them. Don’t multitask – drop everything else, and listen.

Use your senses to help you stay engaged. What can you see and hear?

It’s very natural for your mind to wander. When you notice this happening, just bring your attention back to what you can see, and hear, and continue listening to the person speak.

Try not to get distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or urges to say something. Again, it’s natural to have all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and urges – just take note of these, and refocus on paying attention.

Let them finish speaking – don’t leap in to offer suggestions.

Pay attention to their vocal tone, posture, and other non-verbal cues.

How to show you’re listening

Use non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, to show the person you’re listening to them.

Facial expressions

Try to appear warm – smile (if appropriate) or show any other facial expression that you feel suits the situation.

Eye contact

Maintain an appropriate level of eye contact – not too much, not too little. This can differ between people and cultures.

Generally, use more eye contact while they are talking, and less while you’re talking.

Body posture and movements

Try to keep a relaxed posture. Notice if you are tensing the muscles in your face, neck, or shoulders, and if so, let some of that tension go.

If sitting, lean towards the person talking slightly.

Try not to move around too much, especially during more serious or meaningful parts of the conversation.

Use smooth hand gestures.

Active listening - how to truly listen

Keep an open attitude

Curiosity is key. Be curious about what’s going on for someone, and open to hearing about it, without judgement.

Seek to understand, not judge or solve. You don’t need to have all the answers. Just show that you care and you’re interested in what they are saying.

Think of the person as capable. This can stop you from trying to ‘rescue’ them with suggestions. Only offer support if that’s what they want.

When it’s your turn to talk

Remember, you don’t have to solve things. Helping someone feel heard and understood is often enough.

While it may seem strange, sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to say nothing. Take a breath. Slow down. And make room for a moment of silence. This gives you both a chance to reflect. You can do this before you start to talk, or at any time in the conversation.

Try to match the pace, tone, and volume of the person.

When you’re ready, reflect back what they’ve said to you in a way that shows you’ve understood. Try not to add anything, e.g. judgements, opinions, or big interpretations.

Ask relevant questions, including asking for clarification if you need it. This shows you care enough to get it right.

Summarise. After you’ve understood what’s happening, try to summarise what they’ve talked about, then ask “does this sound right”?

Finally, ask if they want any advice, suggestions, or help – and only offer it if they say yes.

Active listening - how to truly listen

Remember: everyone is different

Different people have different needs when it comes to being listened to – you may need to experiment with the variables above.

Remember to go easy on yourself. Sometimes, listening to others – especially when they’re struggling – is hard. Therapists train for years to do this well! So, you don’t have to be perfect at it.

If you pay attention, keep an open mind, show that you care and understand, and avoid offering suggestions (unless that’s what someone wants!), you should make a difference to the people around you, and your relationships, with your active listening skills.

If you suspect a friend, family member or colleague is feeling distressed, read how to spot the signs and what you can do to help.

Are you a good listener?

Odds are, you’re not. But you think otherwise.

Just ask Mary Harris, the host and managing editor of Only Human, a podcast produced by WNYC Studios in New York that explores stories about health and all of the weird and wonderful things that make us mortal. As part of the show, Harris recently honed in on listening, creating a “Listen Up” series and listening boot camp to help listeners improve their skills.

The challenge, in part, is our brains, says Harris. Research shows that our brains can process 400 words a minute, and yet, we speak an average of 125 words a minute. That gap leaves our minds casting around for more information. And there’s the rub: If we’re actively seeking more information, we’re not really listening.

Most of us think that listening is a passive activity. It’s not.

“We overestimate our skills,” says Harris. “It’s a natural instinct because we can process [words] faster. But in the end, that means that our listening really isn’t in the shape that we want it to be in.”

During the five-show series, Harris spoke with listening experts, a memory champion, a body-language scholar, and others to find out why listening is so challenging (news flash: it gets more difficult as we age) and what we can do about it.

We asked the host for advice on how to be a better listener in long-term situations when the listener isn’t a part of the conversation, like bopping to music, taking in a lecture, or watching a show. Listening Tips from Mary Harris:

01. Commit to being a better listener.

Most of us think that listening is a passive activity. It’s not. In fact, tuning in can be exhausting. A good listener is mindful of listening. It’s an intentional act. If your attention starts to drift, it’s up to you to be aware and refocus on the speaker.

02. Get rid of all distractions.

Technology hasn’t helped in our quest to be better listeners. Instant messages, texts, emails — they’re all competing for our attention. Close your computer, silence your phone, and be present when you’re listening.

03. Create a three-minute bufferВ zone.

Whether you’re attending a lecture, listening to music or an audiobook, or heading to a meeting, it’s important that you take time to mentally prepare. Give yourself three minutes to think about what you’ll be listening to. What do you want to get out of it? Why is it important? That also gives you time to clear your mind of all the noise that collects throughout the day (“How’s my kid doing?” “Why did my co-workers say that?” “What is with this traffic?”). By tuning in to the task at hand, you’ll put yourself in a better listening zone and get more out of it.

04.В Mirror the person talking.

This is advice that listening experts give for participating in a conversation, but it also applies to longer-term listening. Your goal, when listening, is to tap into what the person speaking is trying to communicate. By mirroring their body language, including their hand positions and facial expressions, you can gain a deeper understanding of what they’re trying to say. Plus, the added task will help you stay focused.

05. Constantly check in.

To be an active listener when you’re a part of an audience, it’s up to you to keep yourself on point. Throughout the talk, ask yourself, “What was that about?” Don’t just hear what the person said and then let it go. Process it, analyze it, and consider how it applies to you.

A couple of years ago, a future social engineer had the opportunity to meet the President of the Florida Association of Hostage Negotiators. In the short meeting, she asked him what he would say is the single most important and effective element in negotiating. She was hoping he would give her some Jedi mind trick that she could use on her son to coerce him into keeping his room clean. The answer was simple – “just listen.” A bit disappointed in the simplicity of the answer. She thought, how will listening help with a negotiation scenario? And how could she apply that in her personal life? It turns out, there’s more to “listening” than the word implies. Active Listening is the secret to any successful negotiation. Let’s consider the difference between listening and active listening.

Active listening - how to truly listen

Passive vs. Active Listening

Passive listening mainly involves taking in information without giving much thought to what’s being said. Common words used during passive listening include “hmm,” “I see,” “interesting,” “Oh yeah,” etc. Being a passive listener is not necessarily a bad thing. You are still paying attention and show it through your facial expressions and body language. As a result, the person speaking to you can sense that you are engaged. Passive listening plays a vital role in our day-to-day communication with our family and friends, as well as the people we meet, especially when we are in a social setting. What then is active listening and how can it improve our negotiation skills?

Active listening involves an engaged mind and giving our undivided attention to our counterpart. Rather than listening to hear (or to respond) we are listening to understand our counterpart’s position or point of view. Some active listening techniques include tactical empathy, mirroring, and the use of effective questions. The goal of active listening is to truly understand the thoughts and emotions that the other person is trying to convey. Additionally, it includes making sure they know that we understand. This motivates the person to want to share more of their thoughts and feelings. Let’s take a look as to how we can employ some of these active listening techniques.

Tactical Empathy

You might be familiar with the word empathy. It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. However tactical empathy involves hearing the words our counterpart is saying and trying to identify the emotions that may be influencing them to act in a certain way and that shape their perception.

When we can get a sense of how a situation looks or feels from the other persons’ point of view then we can use empathy in a way that will win their trust. They will sense that we truly understand how they feel. Although this may sound like a simple act, the act of listening without personal judgment requires self-awareness and practice. This is because our natural tendency is to shift our attention inward and silently compare what we have heard to our own logic and views. Practicing tactical empathy prompts us to leave aside our personal opinions and focus on understanding what our counterpart is trying to convey.

Mirroring

According to Christopher Voss, author of Never Split the Difference, the kind of mirroring used in this context is not the physical type of mirroring. For example, you put your hand on your chin and I do the same. It’s simpler yet more effective than that. Mirroring consists of repeating the last one to three words of what somebody just said. You would repeat those last few words with an upward voice infliction as you would a question. This creates a connection and encourages the person to expound or correct your perception. By doing this, you’re essentially telling the other person “I am interested, and I want to know more, so keep talking.”

Effective Questions

We often use conversational questions such as “Really?” and “Are you serious?”. These questions play their role in casual conversations. However, in order to truly understand our counterparts, we need to ask effective questions. These questions usually start with words such as “what”, “how” or “why”. Asking these types of questions will make the person stop and think instead of providing one-word answers. Another benefit of effective questioning is that it makes the other person feel in control. In reality though, you will actually have the upper hand. You will get a closer look at how they see the situation, allowing you to offer solutions or options that will appeal to your counterpart.

Improving Your Active Listening Skills—Why It Matters?

Most of us like to think of ourselves as great listeners and we may be to a certain degree. The truth is, we can all improve on our active listening skills. Being an active listener involves more than sitting in silence as the other person speaks, without any interaction or outward display of empathy. If that were the case, my dog would the best listener ever.

It’s good to remember that even when we are fully engaged in a discussion, we often listen with the intent to respond. For example, as we are listening to the other person, we are often formulating answers in our mind to confirm our own position and viewpoints. Perhaps we’re thinking that by doing this we will come up with the perfect rebuttal and assert our “correctness”. This however hinders true communication. It diminishes our power and situational awareness, making us appear less empathetic and thus less trustworthy.

When we practice ego suspension in our active listening and we listen with the goal to understand the other person’s point of view (whether or not we agree), we can then display true empathy which in turn will build trust, enabling our counterpart to feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. This will allow for a more successful negotiation every single time.

Listen with a Goal

In summary, active listening is to listen with a goal, the goal of understanding our counterpart. So, whether you are negotiating with clients, your significant other, or even your children, ask yourself -how well do I understand my counterpart’s feelings, thoughts and viewpoints? In the words of Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we must “seek to understand before being understood.

Trust is the essential ingredient for leadership success.

Active listening - how to truly listenIt’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Active listening - how to truly listen

They say the key to any healthy human relationship is effective communication. This principle also applies to the relationship between a customer and a customer service or sales representative.

What is active listening in customer service?

Active listening is the foundation of effective communication. Active listening in customer service means being totally focused on the words that the customer is saying, understanding what those words mean and responding in a manner that validates what they’re saying.
The more empathy you have with your customers, the more they will value their relationship with you – and your products. #empathy #custserv #cx Click To Tweet

Why is active listening important in customer service?

Behind every customer call is a real person, looking for guidance or a solution to a problem. It’s critical to engage in active listening in order to make that person feel truly heard, understood, and served. The more empathy you have with your customers — the more you listen to them — the more they will value their relationship with you and the product and services you offer. People just want to be listened to. And customers do notice — nearly 50% of customers believe companies act empathy when delivering customer service.

Here’s why active listening is one of the best communication tools every customer service call center representative should master.

Customers Want to Truly be Heard and Understood

Vocalizing our thoughts and feelings, regardless of our gender is an innate part of our human experience. In fact, we even have a vocalization protein in our brains! As humans, we listen to far fewer words than we think about. On average, humans are able to actively listen to 125 to 250 words per minute but can think about words at a rate of 1000 to 3000 words per minute.

So, even though actively listening may be a challenge, it’s critical to providing a great customer service experience. In fact, research finds that 60% of business problems can be attributed to poor communication. And, since phone calls are still the consumers’ preferred method of contacting customer service, exercising the skill of active listening will reap valuable returns for any organization.

Customers Will Tell You What to Sell Them

If you listen to your customers, even if that’s just on social media or basic feedback surveys, you gather a wealth of information about how your customers view your product. And this may be wildly different than you think.
If you want to create ‘raving fans’, start by actively listening to your customer. They’ll tell you how to impress them. #cx #custserv Click To Tweet
Many companies have made a success of pivoting to meet customer demands (ourselves included) and it is clear to anyone that the best way to grow your company is by implementing customers’ feedback. When you do that, existing customers will appreciate you even more, and that’s how you get raving fans. Actively listening to your customers is such a successful approach that more and more companies have switched to it over older models.

Actively Listening Means Asking Follow-up Questions

One of the best ways to reassure someone that you’re really listening is to ask a lot of follow-up questions. This keeps the conversation alive!

I can tell right away when my husband isn’t really listening to me, because he’s completely silent while I’m talking. Sometimes this means he’s taking in what I’m saying (rarely!), but usually it means he’s only half-listening. Ironically, it’s actually when he’s being more vocal – asking a lot of questions, following up on previous points, and engaging in dialogue, that I truly feel heard.

Active listening - how to truly listen

It can be really tempting to want to wrap up each customer call as quickly as possible and move on to the next person or ticket in your queue. But, the customer service representatives who truly understand effective communication know that each customer call needs time.

Customers shouldn’t be rushed. Asking follow-up questions makes customers feel that they are being given the time they need to voice their concerns and even ask their own questions.

One of the best ways to not have to rush a customer call is by giving the customer the option of receiving a call-back. This allows customer service reps to really take their time with calls, as they don’t have to rush through their queues. And, it makes customers feel as though their time is valued, rather than being wasted waiting on hold.

Active Listening Fosters Understanding and Empathy

Most people call or contact customer service if they’ve encountered a problem with a company’s product or service. That means, more often than not, call center agents have to exhibit a great deal of calm and patience as they navigate each customer’s concerns.

Active listening is especially critical in situations where customers are upset, frustrated, and perhaps exhibiting some hostility. By asking follow-up questions, relaying back their situation, and empathizing with their frustrations, customers feel truly understood and taken care of.

We can all relate to being on the phone with a call center agent who is clearly stuck on their call script and doesn’t seem to care about your concerns. The purpose of having real people at customer service call centers is to offer that personal touch and interaction for consumers, rather than them having to go through automated messaging.

Being able to have a real, authentic conversation is what keeps consumers engaged and coming back. Call center strategies that lose that authenticity ultimately lose customers.

There’s a reason our mothers drilled this saying into us, “you have two ears and one mouth; listen twice as much as you speak”.

Actively listening truly is the key to effective communication. Developing and using that skill in customer service calls means having the opportunity to win a raving, life-long customer.

Tips for Better Active Listening in Customer Service:

  1. Focus on what the customer is saying, rather than what you’re going to say in response
  2. Focus on what the customer isn’t saying – their tone of voice, body language and facial expressions (if you can see them)
  3. Don’t interrupt – nobody likes to be cut off in the middle of a sentence.
  4. Give the customer your full attention, and tune out distractions; definitely don’t multitask while talking to a customer
  5. Take quick notes, but don’t let them distract you from what the customer is saying
  6. Occasionally repeat what the customer has said back to them, to confirm you have the correct information, and to demonstrate your attentiveness
  7. Don’t take it personally when a customer is upset – often they just want you to validate their frustration before you can move on to a solution
  8. Check frequently that you are collecting the right information and understand the issue correctly
  9. Do something about it later. This might seem obvious but you can do all the listening in the world and it won’t matter if the issue isn’t fixed.

Active listening - how to truly listen

Find Out All the Contact Center Trends in 2021

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