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  • Writer's pictureSteve King

What is Active Listening?

At the core of it, active listening is a communication technique that involves more than just hearing the words the speaker is saying.

It involves focusing on what the speaker is saying, as well as their intonation, body language, and facial expressions.

Active listening involves paying attention to what is behind the words the speaker is saying… their feelings, emotions, and concerns. Rather than just responding to the words, active listeners make sure that they truly understand what the speaker is communicating.

It’s an important life skill to have in any relationship but when we take into our training it can assist in creating a safe space for the for the learner to express themselves, and it allows the trainer to gain a better understanding of the learner's thoughts and feelings. It does wonders in building trust and respect between people as demonstrates the trainer is truly engaged in the conversation and is taking the time to understand the learner's perspective.

Luckily, this is a skill that can be developed with practice. It involves being more mindful of others’ words and body language, responding in a way that shows you’re truly listening and understanding and not just listening to respond.

It involves asking questions to gain further insight into thoughts and feelings. With practice, active listening can become an invaluable tool for creating meaningful conversations and relationships and ultimately, makes you a more empathetic person.

So, what do active listeners do?

1. They stop talking

This may seem like common sense, but it can be harder than you might think! When some people stop talking, it’s only because they’re thinking about what they want to say next. But not with active listeners! Active listeners suppress the urge to focus on how they want to respond and first actually listen to what you have to say.

2. They approach listening as a learning experience

The most effective mentors are life-long learners. This goes hand-in-hand with them also being active listeners, the listening experience is a learning experience. Truly active listeners think of the speaker as someone who can teach them something, no matter who that speaker may be! For them, there’s always something to learn.

3. They guide the conversation

Active listeners are rarely happy with a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, they avoid closed questions and employ open-ended ones, using broad queries to guide their learners to discover solutions for themselves. Some examples of leading questions may be “What other alternatives have you considered to X?” or “How do you envision Y feeling like when you’ve achieved it?

4. They make you think

While active listener-trainers use guiding questions to get their learners where they need to be, they don’t let them off the hook with lofty responses. Instead, they ensure they pull out actionable items from every conversation. These may be discovered after asking questions like “Tell me how you plan to accomplish X,” or “How did you decide that Y was the best choice?” These direct, specific questions can help focus the conversation while bringing to light important insights and next steps.

5. They take into account more than just what you say

These mentors aren’t just paying attention to the words you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and what your body is doing while you speak. That’s because often, the real message we want to convey doesn’t take the form of a verbal response, it may be less verbal and more emotional, expressing itself through our body language. Active listener-trainers know to look for this in order to truly understand what you want to get across.

6. They pay attention, summarise, and provide positive feedback

Ultimately, these trainers will pay attention and respect what you have to say, even if they don’t agree. In order to ensure they understand correctly, they’ll also often summarise what you’ve said by using statements such as “If I’m understanding you correctly, you…” or “Tell me if this is what you’re saying…” Last but not least, they’ll use positive feedback and body language… such as a nod, smile or positive “uh huh”—to encourage you and signify interest and understanding.

It’s important to note that active listening takes energy. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back and allow words to hit their eardrums. They sit up straight, take notes, ask questions, and repeat or “mirror back” what they’ve heard in order to ensure they’ve understood it properly. If you notice this type of behaviour from your own trainer during conversations, you’ve hit the jackpot! Your trainer is fully invested in you, what you’re saying, and helping you grow. The world would surely be a better place if we were all active listeners.

Why Active Listening is Important.

Active listening has been shown to be helpful in many communication situations and helps to build relationships by showing the learner that they are being heard and understood. This can help to create an atmosphere of trust and transparency. On the other hand, not listening or defaulting to offering unsolicited advice can actively lead to misunderstandings and feelings of frustration and resentment and a loss of rapport.

Developing Effective Active Listening Skills

Some further key strategies of active listening include:

  • Watch body language: Keeping an eye on body language cues can help you understand more about what the learner is feeling.

  • Maintain eye contact with the learner and really concentrate on their words.

  • Encourage the learner to continue talking by providing verbal responses such as “yes” or “go on”, as well as non-verbal cues such as nodding.

  • Be aware of your personal biases or preconceptions that may be influencing your listening.

  • Remain open-minded and try to view the conversation from the learner's perspective.

  • Be patient and allow the learners to take their time to express their thoughts and feelings.

  • Be mindful of your attitude: Your attitude towards the learner will inevitably affect how much you are able to take in.

  • Resist the urge to dish out advice or judgement during the conversation, and instead focus on truly understanding the learners' words and feelings.

  • Practice active pauses: Taking pauses before responding can help you correctly process the information presented to you.

  • Slow down your speech: Speaking quickly may prevent you from understanding the learner and their context.

  • Avoid multitasking: Multitasking during a conversation can be detrimental to the listener’s understanding, so try not to do it.

By actively listening and engaging with the speaker, you can create a safe and supportive environment for a meaningful client centred conversation.

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