No matter in which part of an organisation you work, it is more and more emphasized, that you need to use the technique of the Active Listening while interacting with colleagues at your workplace. While many people seem to think that they do it well and communicate in an excellent way, we could wonder:
Is it really understood what Active Listening is?
Is it true that it is being used perfectly by everyone all around?
What are the signs that someone is not mastering the technique and how can it be improved?
Besides the workplace, how it can be useful for you in your life?
In this article, you will get some answers to all of these questions about the Active Listening.
So, what is Active Listening in practice?
It is your attention.
As you could have already heard about it, Active Listening means that during an interaction with someone, you are giving your undivided attention to your communication partner. It is something that we think we always do, but well… As I have seen, this is absolutely not the case, there is still room for improvement for most of the people, to be honest.
When you are listening actively in practice, you provide your full attention to the person in front of you. You also show it with your body language by turning your whole body towards this person.
In the past, I have had conversations at my previous workplaces with leaders of mine, where this did not happen. They were sitting sideways to me, never completely face to face. How did it make me feel? I felt that my Leader is not interested in me, in the conversation we are having. Even though maybe it was not the full picture, this message also came over by the body language.
As per the attention, it should be a default, but is still worth mentioning: do not check your phone, eat or do anything on the side during the conversation (except if it is a lunch meeting, that is a different case). Because all these side-activities will send the message to your conversation partner that you are not there for them entirely. Avoid any side-activities that could disturb the attention.
It is you understanding what the other person says.
This means that you listen more than you talk. And you do not only listen with the intent to take over and talk. Very important point. If you are not clear about some things being said, you ask back – this can also assure the other person, that you are indeed paying attention and want to understand what they say. You can also summarize what you have heard so far – but please make sure, this is a genuine move, not a text-book action.
When it comes to the understanding part of the Active Listening you can also use the technique of reflecting. It means that you can share with your communication partner a similar situation that you experienced personally. However, I would be very cautious with it.
I have seen it in many discussions, that a “listening partner” was only using this reflecting technique and nothing else, throughout the whole conversation. If I say something, I would expect the understanding of the other person, not throwing at me instantly his/her own stories without anything else. Even though these can seem to be 2-way communications from the outside, from the inside they mostly feel like a pointless and not fulfilling ping-pong. I say, you say, I say, you say. But there is no real connection between the two people here. No understanding, no acknowledging of feelings, no real bonding. This can end up being very disappointing, the recipient one feeling that they are not understood at all.
It is you being genuine.
Active Listening is a technique anyone can learn to use if they have a good self-reflection and willingness to improve. And while of course it needs practice, it is very important to remember: if it doesn’t come genuinely from you, it will be noticed by the recipient. In this case the “fake it until you make it” doesn’t really work. I can personally always tell, when people are fake-interested in me or in what I say. And believe me, many people can notice that – and this is not something you would like to be a part of the impression of you, being fake.
So, when you start the use the Active Listening technique, try to find something for yourself in it, which comes genuinely from you. If you cannot find anything, then it is rather worth thinking about for yourself why you are not willing to connect to people on this deeper level and understand their point of view and thoughts. Because in this case, that needs to be solved first.
What are the signs of someone not mastering the Active Listening and how can it be improved?
One of the signs is – as I mentioned before – the body language. For example: turning sideways, crossing the arms, not keeping the healthy amount of eye contact, being restless during the conversation.
Others sings can also be: doing side-things during the conversation, only reflecting all the time and not being able to really connect to the person who talks, judging what is being said and a lot more of course. I am sure you all have your own examples as well by now.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being genuine instead of being fake and pretending to listen actively. If you only try to follow the steps from the textbook but not giving yourself into it, it will be sensed. You do not have to follow the whole concept perfectly. It is a lot better if you find your own connection to the parts of the Active listening through which you can connect to the person in front of you. That is being genuine. That is from where you can start to improve your technique.
And if you wish to improve your Active Listening skills further, the most basic thing is to practice it. But also, besides practicing, ask for feedback from the colleagues with whom you are communicating. Accept these feedbacks and use them for your own good. Also, you can go for a coaching session or two, where you can dedicate your time to this purpose. The more time, energy and consciousness you put into it, the better you will be.
How can the Active Listening be useful in your personal life?
People like to be heard and it is a general thing, not restricted only to the workplaces. When you are having conversations with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, it is also very important for them to feel understood. Sometimes in the heat or routine of the daily life many people forget to pay full attention to the loved ones. Consciously put energy into using the Active Listening with your partner, you will see how greatly it can improve the connection between you two.
In your private life it is also very important to practice it with your kids.
From the psychological perspective, those children who receive a good amount of attention from their parents (in which the Active Listening helps a lot) are less likely to have self-confidence and self-esteem issues later on in their lives. They are also more balanced; they will be able to cope with stress better and be more creative, self-confident and self-aware as an adult as well. If you allow even just a short amount of time daily for actively listening to your kids, it can make a huge positive difference for them growing up to be a more mentally healthy adult.
As you could see, it is not necessarily easy to practice Active Listening, however if you consciously put some effort and energy into it, you can become a master in it. And through this, you can improve your relationships both at the workplace and in your private life as well.
Wishing you all good practicing times! 🙂