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Have you ever found yourself drifting off in your thoughts during a conversation? To observers, it appears you’re engrossed in discussion, but mentally you’re compiling your grocery list, preparing for your next appointment, or thinking of what you’ll say when it’s your turn to talk. When we are not fully listening, we are short-changing our speaker and ourselves. By receiving some parts of information and only pieces of conversations, we risk misunderstandings and miscommunications later down the road.
Active listening is making a conscious effort to concentrate on what another person is saying as well as understand the complete message they are sending. Through active listening, you are able to better communicate, relate, and respond to your clients, which mean you can better meet their needs and build a stronger relationship.
Here are 5 tips to help you become a better active listener:
- Eliminate Distractions: Set down the smartphone, clear your mind, and give the speaker your undivided attention. Reduce background activity and noise so you can focus and concentrate on listening. If you have to, take the conversation somewhere quiet and private.
- Take Interest: Be present in the moment and carefully listen to what the speaker has to say. You can pick up on the emotional undertones and non-verbal cues. For example, wringing hands or flailing arms may be a sign of high emotion or stress.
- Maintain Eye Contact: Face your speaker and sit or stand in a position so your eyes are near the same level. Avoid looking around the room or checking your electronic devices. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying and maintain eye contact. Keep in mind that eye contact can be intimidating for certain cultures and personalities, especially for more shy speakers. Use your active listening skills to gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for the situation and audience.
- Be Aware of Body Language: In addition to making eye contact, observe the speaker’s non-verbal communication. You can also use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention by nodding occasionally, smiling, and mirroring the speaker’s gestures.
- Avoid Interrupting: When your speaker finishes or pauses, ask questions or make comments, if appropriate. You may also want to repeat or paraphrase what you think you heard to verify that you fully understand what his or her message.
As you interact with your clients, peers, and employees, try to practice your active listening skills. Do your best to be patient with yourself while you’re honing these new skills. Though these steps may seem simple, active listening takes practice!