Being able to communicate is a skill that all students need both in school and in their future careers. At some point in their lives, students will need to relay instructions, and explain complex ideas or concepts whether it’s for a school presentation or a work-related responsibility. Mastering the ability to perform these skills will bring students success in anything they decide to do with their life. One of the most essential skills for communication is “active listening.” Becoming effective in this aspect will help students solve problems faster, form better relationships personally and professionally, process information better, and improve long term retention.
What Is Active Listening?
Active listening is a person’s ability to focus all of their attention on a speaker or educator, process and understand their message, and be able to formulate the appropriate response. It is the opposite of “passive listening” which is simply hearing someone but not absorbing anything they say. Listening to someone tell a story while also texting on your phone for instance. Active listening requires students to be fully engaged so that they are able to participate in the discussion and later retrieve information they learned from within their brain. Active listeners do not need to have information repeated to them since they make use of specific techniques that assist them in focusing on the person who is speaking. This also benefits the speaker since they can see that the listener is paying attention and fully invested in the subject matter. Active listeners do not plan their words out while the other person is talking, they wait until they have heard everything and carefully form their thoughts afterward. Active listening is a skill that all learners need to excel in their education and anything else they set out to do in life.
Why Is It Important?
Whether you are still in school, looking for a new job, or just trying to grow your skills, improving active listening skills will help to propel you forward. Similar to critical thinking, active listening gives students value when they are new to the workforce. Here are some benefits of being a skilled active listener:
People like to share information with active listeners because they know they will be listened to. When you consistently prove that you offer your undivided attention when someone is speaking, they will open up to you more often. This can be with friends, family, or potential professional relationships. You will open yourself up to a variety of opportunities to network with others or be involved in exciting new projects during your career. Active listeners are successful because people need to feel comfortable with someone to want to work with them and also know that they are genuine.
You want people to trust you, especially in the workforce. Colleagues should be able to depend on you to do your part within the company. Customers should be able to expect stellar service and a high-quality product that will make them keep coming back to you. Any other business connections need to know that you are dependable and easy to work with. They need to know that they can communicate with you effectively and receive a professional and prompt response in return.
Identify & Solve
Active listening also allows you to spot problems much faster and solve them much easier. You will be able to assist others with their issues when they arise as well and help them come up with a strategy to deal with them. Being able to notice and address an issue early on will save you and your team so much work in the long run since the problem was not allowed to escalate too much.
Knowledge & Understanding
Active listeners have an overall better understanding of the information that is fed to them on a daily basis. Since active listening aids in retention, you will not only be able to grasp new topics with much less effort, but you will also be able to remember them when you need to apply the information to a real world situation such as a presentation or during conflict resolution.
The Important Stuff Sticks
Perhaps someone is trying to explain a process to you or is trusting you to relay a message to a coworker. Using your active listening skills here means that you are fully engaged with whom you are speaking to and that you will be able to remember the process or accurately pass on the message. Active listening means you always catch the most important pieces of information.
Examples of Active Listening
The following are active listening techniques that you can use to practice being a stronger communicator.
Verbal Active Listening
- Open-Ended Questions: When you ask questions that are open ended, it shows that you understand the gist of what the speaker is explaining to you. It also allows them room to expand upon their previous explanation. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Make sure your question leaves plenty of room for the speaker to provide you with more information on the topic.
- Be Specific: Be specific and be direct when asking a question in a lecture or other similar situation. Ask the speaker a question that will allow them to zero in on one particular thing and make a broader subject more focused.
- Paraphrase: If you provide a summary for the speaker of everything they have shared with you, it will show them that you were listening to them. It will also allow them a chance to fill in any gaps that might be missing from your perspective.
- Affirmations: Short, verbal affirmations show a speaker that you are engaged, and since they are brief, do not disrupt their message. Try “I agree” or “I understand.” These also lessen social tension.
- Empathize: If someone is sharing something with you that is upsetting for them, make sure they see that you are aware of how they feel and can place yourself in their shoes. Displaying compassion to them establishes trust and makes the speaker more comfortable engaging with you.
- Relate: If you have experienced something similar to your fellow speaker, share it with them. This means that you comprehend what they are trying to say and also provides a foundation to build a relationship upon.
- Retrieval: Try to “dig up” or retrieve important information that this speaker has shared with you previously. Remembering and later referencing past information shows the speaker that you actively listen since you can retain and recall specifics from your previous conversations.
Non-Verbal Active Listening
- Eye Contact: Eye contact is important; it lets people know that they have your full attention. Just be sure to not make it too intense and balance it out with an occasional smile so the speaker is comfortable. Try not to focus too much on other people or activities going on around you.
- Nod: Nodding means you understand, not always that you agree. It is a very helpful social cue since it indicates that you are comprehending the message and that the speaker can continue on.
- Smile: Similar to nodding, smiling at someone encourages them to continue with what they are saying. Unlike nodding, a smile typically means that you do in fact agree with what they are saying and that it makes you happy. Smiling relieves tension in the same way as the verbal affirmations mentioned earlier.
- Movement: Everyone has nervous tics such as leg or pen tapping, sighing, or casually drawing. Doing any of these while someone is speaking could be seen as you feeling bored or uninterested. They will not feel comfortable engaging with you in the future if it seems as if your mind is elsewhere. Mind your movements; being still and calm indicates focus.
Active listening is so important. Incorporating these verbal and non-verbal techniques into your day-to-day interactions will help your current relationships grow stronger and make facilitating new ones much easier. Practice often; consistency is key. This way you will be ready for the workforce when you graduate since communicating will have become a more seamless process for you. Active listening is an essential skill and mastering it will benefit you both personally and professionally for as long as you need it to.