9 Ways to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 6, 2022

Published June 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Communication involves both speaking and listening, but active listening skills are vital to ensuring the speaker knows you're engaged. Active listening involves more than just hearing what a person is saying. It also involves letting them know you're listening with your body language, demeanour, and response to make them feel heard. We refer to this entire process as active listening. In this article, we explore what active listening is, why it's important, and discuss nine ways you can improve your active listening skills in the workplace.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a type of listening skill that involves being fully focused and paying attention when someone is speaking to you. It also entails engaging in conversation, reflecting on, and paraphrasing what the speaker has said. Displaying appropriate body language, letting them talk without interrupting, and withholding comments or judgement are all ways to exhibit active listening.

Why is active listening important?

The primary goal of active listening is to acquire accurate information and listen to understand people and their situations before responding to them. Active listening differs from hearing, as there is more focus on the intention to understand the speaker's message fully. It's a conscious decision to listen attentively and understand what someone is trying to communicate. Nonverbal cues such as nodding the head, maintaining eye contact, and smiling are all aspects of active listening.

This is a sought after soft skill and held in high regard by many employers, coworkers, customers, and other professional contacts. It's considered by some to be the most crucial element in the communication process.

9 Ways to improve your listening skills in the workplace

Sharpening your listening skills involves more than just paying attention to what the speaker is saying. It also involves engaging with the speaker.

Here are nine ways you can improve your active listening skills:

1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact

Eye contact is a vital element of effective communication. It's, therefore, crucial to face the speaker and maintain eye contact with them to show them you're listening. Ensure that you and the speaker are at the same level. If they are standing, stand with them, and if they're sitting, sit down to be at the same eye level. It's also courteous to put aside books, computers, papers, and other distractions when listening to someone speak. This shows that you have given them your undivided attention, and you value what they have to say.

Read more: Four Types of Communication (With Definitions and Examples)

2. Relax while listening to the speaker

Relax when maintaining eye contact with the speaker so they can see that you're interested in what they have to say. You can look away from the speaker once in a while to avoid tension in the conversation. Mentally filter out distractions like noise and background activities. It's also advisable to be conscious not to let your feelings, thoughts, or opinions distract you. Remain focused on the content of what the speaker's saying, instead of their speech, mannerisms, diction, or accent.

3. Pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues

Nonverbal communication makes up for almost half of what someone says when talking to you. Nonverbal communication includes eye contact, body movements, posture, space, touch and facial expressions. Paying attention to your speaker's nonverbal cues is important as it increases your awareness and also improves your ability to engage and interact with them more.

People mostly communicate more with their actions than they do with words. Observing your speaker's body language will help you get the true meaning of their words. For instance, observing a speaker's facial expressions can help you interpret the emotions of the speaker and respond appropriately. Listening to your speaker's tonal variation and fluctuations in their voice, such as volume, rhythm, pitch, and tone, can be an effective way to interpret what they are saying. A loud and serious tone, for example, conveys stronger feelings as opposed to a low and softer tone.

4. Be open-minded

Being open-minded in active listening involves being receptive to new ideas, arguments, and information. Being open-minded involves learning new things that may conflict with your existing opinions. To be open-minded, you need to empathize, be curious, and listen attentively to what other people have to say. Exercising these interpersonal skills is essential, and you can use this opportunity to understand other people's feelings and beliefs.

Read more: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

5. Let the speaker finish without interrupting

If you'd like to contribute to the conversation, first allow the speaker to finish speaking. Interrupting them mid-sentence may disrupt their train of thought and take the conversation off track. If you steer away from the original purpose of the conversation, you can navigate it back to the original topic. This shows the speaker that you were paying attention and are interested in going back to pick up from where you left off. It's a good sign that you value what they're saying and are actively listening to them.

6. Create a mental picture and paraphrase what is being said

Allow your mind to create a mental picture of what the speaker is saying. Your brain will form this mental picture if you stay focused and keep your other senses fully alert. Repeat back what the speaker has just said, but in your own words to ensure you understood their message. Paraphrasing helps you to clarify what you've heard and clear misunderstandings.

7. Be empathic

Put yourself in the speaker's place and allow yourself to feel what they're feeling. Mimic their emotions to convey that you understand their feelings with your words and facial expressions. Your ability to be empathetic lets the speaker know you acknowledge and understand what they're saying, thinking, and feeling as they talk. Empathy is at the heart of effective listening.

8. Ask questions

When asking the speaker questions, ensure that they're in line with the topic and their core message. Asking the speaker questions signifies that you're paying attention and want to learn more. If you notice that your question has led the speaker astray, refocus and circle back to the topic to get the conversation back on track.

Related: 65 Icebreaker Questions

9. Give the speaker regular feedback

Giving the speaker regular feedback is a sign that you understand what they are saying. An occasional affirmation like "yes," or "I see," shows that you're engaged and following the conversation. Ask open-ended questions to allow the speaker to elaborate more on the subject. For example, “How would you respond to such a situation? What are our options?” It's also courteous to wait for the speaker to stop talking before asking questions.

What are the benefits of active listening skills in the workplace?

Active listening skills are essential in the workplace. Being a good listener helps to:

  • Make better decisions: As you listen, you gather and absorb the information the speaker is passing on. It's an opportunity to collect all the facts instead of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Listening actively and being open to others' opinions provides you with more valuable viewpoints about a topic. This may lead you to informed decisions you wouldn't have otherwise thought of on your own.

  • Identify and solve problems: When you listen with the intent to understand, you're able to look beyond the issue at hand, identify problems, and develop more innovative ways to solve problems.

  • Reduce misunderstandings: When you paraphrase what the speaker has said, you're clarifying that you understood their message. This reduces the possibility of a misunderstanding and saves you time in the long term because you don't need to correct mistakes.

  • Resolve conflicts easily: Effectively listening helps you understand what people are saying, which allows you to resolve disputes more quickly. By listening to one another, you can find suitable solutions that suit everyone and maintain healthy professional relationships.

  • Increase productivity: When you listen actively, you retain more information and gain a better understanding of the task, request, or situation. This allows you to complete tasks with accuracy and on time.

  • Learn about the speaker: Carefully listening to someone helps you learn more about them and what they're talking about in your conversation.

  • Improve relationships: Listening creates a feeling of connection and respect in both professional and personal relationships. People respond better to others when they feel heard and that their opinions matter to the other party. When you listen to and pay attention to your co-workers, friends, or family, they will reciprocate and listen and pay attention to you.

  • Helps build trust: Actively listening to your employer, colleagues, or subordinates makes them feel valued. By listening, you express that you're interested in their advice, ideas, and input on various topics in the workplace. This ultimately creates a healthy and open working environment for all of you.

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