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How to Use Active Listening to Improve Your Communication Skills

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Mar 5, 2020 • 2 min read

Most times when we hear things, we are engaged in passive listening—we expect our brains to capture the main points and remember them for later. However, active listening is an important skill when it comes to good communication. Becoming a better listener takes practice, but it will improve your ability to connect with other people and increase your capacity to retain information.

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What Is Active Listening?

Active listening means giving your full attention to a person who is speaking. An active listener focuses on their communication partner and is able to express interest and engage meaningfully in the conversation. Active listening involves both verbal and nonverbal communication. Being a good listener is one of the top interpersonal skills for those in leadership and management positions.

Why Are Active Listening Skills Important?

Active listening is an important part of your communication skill set because it encourages openness, honesty, and success. When you pay attention to your conversation partner, you show that person they are being heard, thus building trust and making that person feel like their words matter to you. The benefits of active listening affect the speaker as well as you. Attentive listening makes for better living and working environments. It cuts down on miscommunication, facilitates conflict resolution and problem-solving, and generates a more positive atmosphere for sharing.

How to Be a Better Active Listener

There are a variety of active listening techniques you can use to ensure that you have good listening skills.

  • Give positive reinforcement. Nodding or giving a verbal indication that you are following along is a way to improve your listening skills. Use positive reinforcement sparingly so as not to distract the speaker with your own words of agreement.
  • Ask relevant questions. When you ask an occasional question (during natural pauses), you’re ensuring that you clearly understand your conversation partner’s point of view. This demonstrates an interest on your part, showing that you’ve been listening to the speaker’s words and want to know more.
  • Restate key points. Restate information by paraphrasing what you’ve heard in your own words. This demonstrates comprehension. When you repeat information back to a speaker, you show that you have absorbed and understood their message.
  • Use nonverbal cues. There are many types of nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. When someone is speaking to you, you should be face-to-face with them, making comfortable eye contact and reacting to their words. Looking at your phone, the clock, or the door can indicate that you have no authentic interest in the person who is speaking to you. This can be detrimental to both personal and professional relationships. As an active listener, you should also pay attention to the speaker’s nonverbal cues. Paying attention to nonverbal details can give you an even clearer picture of how the speaker is feeling.
  • Reserve judgment. An effective listener will let the other person speak without interjecting opinions, unsolicited information, or fixes. Listening with an open mind facilitates trust and shows that you are capable of hearing another person’s words without having to share your own opinions or advice.
  • Do active listening exercises. Practice your active listening skills by working on exercises designed to hone your skills. An example of an active listening exercise is to write a summary of information following each conversation you have. It’s a good way to get into the habit of forcing your mind to stay active and engaged during interactions with others.
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