Active listening is a skill we all can use. Whether we’re interacting with family members or attending a career development meeting, we should be well engaged to get the most out of the situation. What is needed of us? How can we improve a situation? What are the subtle clues another is giving that we should be perceiving? Strong listening skills aid in our communication and problem-solving capabilities.
Yet our mind sometimes wanders, taking our hearing with it. Focus becomes difficult, and suddenly we look back and realize we haven’t caught the whole picture that was being painted. How do we keep this from happening?
A recent article in Fast Company offers advice on how to be an active listener. Some of the tips seem simple enough, but there’s a chance we’re not always using them as effectively as possible. Keeping your eyes on the person speaking is a great way to stay focused on the conversation. Can you really wander mentally while face to face with someone? The answer is that it’s easier to stay focused if you’re making eye contact.
Nodding and smiling at the person with whom you’re speaking also seems like a no-brainer, yet it has fantastic effects. These simple motions suggest to the speaker that you’re really listening to the current topic. In the same way, asking questions or offering affirmations shows that you’re following the conversation, and that you understand or want to better understand what’s being discussed.
Some tips for active listening require more concentration. As you are engaged in conversation, periodically ask yourself what you should be learning. Make mental notes about what’s being discussed and how you can benefit from this knowledge. If possible, take written notes after a meeting to ensure you’ve captured all the important details.
Active listening goes beyond hearing. It involves a sincere openness to what is being said, and it requires concentration. It’s worth the effort, for in the end you are the recipient of knowledge that can be mutually beneficial and personally rewarding.