Six steps to become a more effective listener


Enhanced Lifestyles Incorporated - Customer Care Manager

Last updated on 7 September 2023

Active listening is an essential skill for leaders [Source: Shutterstock]

One of the most important skills you can develop as a leader is active listening. Active listening is the act of being present and fully concentrating on, and understanding what the speaker is saying. It’s a crucial skill that helps leaders build trust, respect, and rapport with their team members and stakeholders. In this article, we’ll unpack six simple steps you can take to become a more effective listener.

Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact

The first step in active listening is to ensure you face the speaker and maintain eye contact. This simple act demonstrates your interest and engagement in the conversation and what the person has to say. A good way to do this is note the colour of their eyes when you connect. It’s important to be attentive but relaxed and avoid crossing your arms or legs, which can signal defensiveness or disinterest.

Step 2: Keep your mind open

It’s essential to keep an open mind when listening to someone. Try to put aside your preconceptions or biases and approach the conversation with curiosity and a willingness to learn. This approach will help you to understand the speaker’s perspective and build trust with them.

Step 3: Listen to understand, not respond

Many people listen to respond, meaning they are already formulating their response in their mind while the other person is still speaking. However, this approach can be counterproductive as it can prevent you from fully understanding the speaker’s message. Instead, listen to understand their message without bias so you can then form a response.

Step 4: Don’t interrupt

It’s essential to avoid interrupting the speaker. Interrupting can signal that you’re not interested in their message, that you don’t respect them or that you feel what you have to say is far more important. Instead, wait for the speaker to pause before asking clarifying questions or making comments.

Step 5: Ask questions but only to ensure understanding

When you ask questions, make sure they are focused on ensuring you understand the speaker’s message, rather than trying to redirect the conversation which can take them off topic or feel they aren’t being heard. Open-ended questions that begin with ‘what’, ‘why’, or ‘how’ are very effective in gaining a deeper understanding of the speaker’s perspective.

Step 6: Pay attention to nonverbal cues

Nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, can provide important context to the speaker’s message. Pay attention to these cues and use them to guide your understanding of the conversation. For example, if the speaker seems tense or uncomfortable, it may signal that they are discussing a sensitive topic, if they are joyful and expressive, they enjoyed the story they are sharing.

Active listening is an essential skill for leaders. By following these six simple steps, you can become a more effective listener and build trust, respect, and rapport with your team members. It also really works in personal relationships too. The first time you try it you might find it uncomfortable but with practice, active listening will become second nature, and you’ll see the benefits in your relationships with your team members, colleagues and your friends and family too.

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