The active listening skillset involves these 6 active listening skills:
One goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone that gives the other personal opportunity to think and speak. Allow “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut the other person off, finish their sentences, or start formulating our answer before they have finished. Paying attention to our body language as well as our frame of mind is important. Be focused on the moment and operate from a place of respect.
Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid arguing or selling their point right away.
Do not assume that we understand the person correctly— or that they know we have heard them. Mirror the person’s information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points. Reflecting is a way to indicate that our counterpart and us are on the same page.
For example, our counterpart might tell us, “Saroja is so loyal and supportive of her friends in class — they would walk through fire for her. But no matter how much I push, her friends keep missing submission deadlines.” To paraphrase the same, we could say, “So Saroja’s people skills are great, but accountability is a problem.”
If we hear, “I don’t know what else to do!” or “I’m tired of saying the same thing to the class every time,” try helping the person label his or her feelings: “Sounds like you are feeling pretty frustrated and stuck.”
Do not be shy to ask questions about any issue that is ambiguous or unclear. If we have doubt or confusion about what the person has said, say something like, “Let me see if I’m clear. Are you talking about …?” or “Wait a minute. I didn’t follow you.”
Open-ended, clarifying, and probing questions are important tools that encourage the person to do the work of self-reflection and problem solving, rather than justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the “right answer.”
“What do you think about …?”
“Tell me about …?”
“Will you further explain/describe …?”
The emphasis is on asking rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration.
We might say:
“What are some of the specific things you’ve tried?”
“Have you asked the team what their main concerns are?”
“Does Saroja agree that there are performance problems?”
“How certain are you that you have the full picture of what’s going on?”
Restating key themes as the conversation proceeds confirms and solidifies your grasp of the other person’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up. Briefly summarise what we have understood as we listened, and ask the other person to do the same.
Giving a brief restatement of core themes raised by the person might sound like: “Let me summarise to check my understanding. Saroja was made class leader and her classmates love her. But you don’t believe she holds them accountable, so mistakes are accepted and keep happening. You’ve tried everything you can think of and there’s no apparent impact. Did I get that right?”.
Restating key themes helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up.
We can continue to query, guide, and offer, but must not dictate a solution. The person will feel more confident and eager if they think through the options and own the solution.
How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills
Many people take their listening skills for granted. We often assume it is clear that we are listening and that others know they are being heard. But the reality is that we often struggle with tasks and roles that directly relate to listening. Accepting criticism well, dealing with people’s feelings, and trying to understand what others think all require strong active listening skills.
Even with the best of intentions, we may actually be unconsciously sending signals that we are not listening at all. We may need to brush up on our listening skills if any of the following questions describe us. Do we sometimes:
If we answered yes to any of these questions, we are not alone. To boost our listening skills and put our active listening skillets into practice, try these helpful tips:
- Active listening is about understanding the other person
- We gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective
- We can introduce our ideas, feelings, and suggestions
- We can talk about a similar experience we had or share an idea based on previous conversations
Once the situation has been talked through in this way, both the person and we have a good picture of where things stand. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem solving.