The act of listening is pretty simple.
Ok, technically it's not that simple, but I don't want to get into the actual logistics of sound waves and how you detect them. I just mean when you listen to someone speaking, all you need to do is give them your attention and hear what they're saying, right?
That works perfectly fine for passive listening, but we are more interested in active listening because active listening is the one trait that all truly great leaders have and if you can master the art of active listening, you'll be a better leader. Remember: good communication starts with listening.
Here are seven ways you can become a better active listener.
1. Use your body.
Listening happens with your whole body, not just your ears.
Keep eye contact and don't skimp on your facial expressions. Face the person with your whole body pointing towards them, not away from them. Facing another direction indicates you want to leave.
Have an open posture, which means not hiding your body behind your crossed arms or legs, or another object. Be still and control any urge to shake or fidget.
Besides paying attention to your own body language, also pay attention to theirs. Notice their non-verbal communication, where their legs and feet are, how genuine their facial expressions are and whether they are closing themselves off from you.
It's worth it to study up on your body language reading skills.
2. Use silence.
Another important tip about listening is to use strategic pauses. Often, the most honest information someone shares comes right after a moment of silence. It might feel unnatural, but that moment of silence will often prompt a person to keep talking in order to fill it, often revealing something they weren't planning to beforehand.
You'll notice this technique used during in-depth interviews with people on TV or in documentaries. The interviewer or filmmaker will linger after a response to a question is given and not immediately jump in with another question. Often, the interview subject will reveal a more honest answer after an elongated pause because they believe they are expected to continue talking (or they are just uncomfortable with pauses in conversation).
This technique is especially helpful when interviewing job prospects.
3. Avoid judging, interrupting and planning.
As important as what you should remember to do is what you should not do while you are actively listening.
Never interrupt the other person (unless you absolutely have to or they are not actually talking about anything worth listening to ... in which case you absolutely have to).
Don't Judge. Instead, even if you disagree, listen, observe and learn. Judging is pointless and will put you into a negative state of mind.
Don't start planning what you are going to say after the speaker finishes while the speaker is still talking. It is pointless, counterproductive and rude.
4. Question effectively.
Questions are tools you can use to clarify and expand a conversation. They challenge assumptions and can foster creativity. Be aware of not only the questions you ask, but why you're asking them.
5. Avoid distractions.
No cell phone, no TV in the background and no fidgeting with stuff, especially if you are having a conversation over the phone and the other person is doing most of the talking. Don't do anything else. Despite the whole 'multitasking' myth, our brains are not designed to do so many things at the same time.
6. Don't automatically try to be a "solver."
One thing people do that can be incredibly irritating to others is to always be offering advice, suggestions and ways to fix things when they're listening to someone. People, much of the time, are not actually looking for advice on fixing anything. They just want others to listen to what they have to say without the other person feeling like they have to solve the problem that is being talked about.
Unless someone explicitly asks you how to fix something, resist the urge to offer solutions. They may be completely unwanted. There's nothing wrong with being nice and trying to help, but before you do that, make sure you know the other person actually wants your help.
7. Use the "Drive-Through Rule" if you have to.
Lastly, make sure you are hearing what you think you are hearing.
When you order at a drive through, they make sure they repeat it back to you and confirm your order before they finalize it. For anything you hear in a conversation that you are not 100 percent sure of, repeat it back to the other person to confirm. When the person hears what they just said, they'll either confirm or it might give them the chance to clarify their position further.
Good listening skills are a requirement of good leadership. If you want to lead people and influence them, show them you can and will listen to them.