The Importance of Active Listening in Interpersonal Communication: Tips to Improve Your Skills
Effective communication is a vital component of building strong, healthy relationships – be it at home or the workplace. Listening, in particular, is perhaps the most critical element in interpersonal communication as our ability to listen well directly impacts the quality of our relationships. However, active listening is not a skill that comes naturally to most people. It is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced to master.
Active listening means listening with the intent to understand, rather than hearing the words alone. It requires a concerted effort to fully engage with the speaker. In this article, we will provide tips on how to improve your active listening skills.
1. Give Focused Attention
One of the essential elements of active listening is minimizing external distractions. Turn down the noise, and put away what you’re doing if possible. Also, set aside other internal thinking and dialogue. Avoid watching the clock, fidgeting or going over your to-do list. Giving the speaker your undivided attention helps to create a more significant connection between you and the speaker.
2. Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact shows the speaker that you are interested in what they are saying. Direct eye contact is an excellent way to show the speaker that you are engaged in the conversation. However, beware; intense eye contact can be intimidating to some people, especially the shy or introverted. Be reasonable, but try not to let your eyes wander to whatever is going on around you.
Facial expressions communicate more than words alone, and a smile is open, inviting, and encouraging. A smile can help put the speaker at ease, making it easier for them to open up and share their thoughts.
4. Watch Body Language
Be conscious of your body language during the conversation. Keep an open posture, a non-aggressive stance and face the speaker(s). Lean in rather than away and watch your hands, how you tilt your head, and your expressions. Pay attention to the speaker’s body language too, as it can give you clues to what they are feeling. By paying attention to body language, you are less likely to misinterpret what the speaker is saying.
5. Offer Encouragement
Nodding occasionally and offering a few judiciously placed ‘Yes,’ “OK,” “I understand,” or “Good” can show that you are affirming the speaker. Just be careful not to overdo the encouragement, or it may come across as annoying or rushing.
6. Allow Silence
Silence in a conversation can be scary, but pauses allow the speaker to gather their thoughts and for you to digest what they are saying. So don’t be afraid of silence. You may find that it leads to more profound moments of insight and understanding.
7. Don’t Interrupt
Interrupting the speaker is disrespectful and distracting. It shows that you are not making an effort to understand them fully. Instead, let the speaker finish speaking before stating your thoughts or asking questions.
8. Reflect Back
Reflecting back what you hear signals that you are attempting to understand the speaker fully. Restate, but don’t repeat verbatim what the other party is saying with responses such as: “What I’m hearing is…” or “Let me see if I’m following you…” Paraphrasing what the speaker is saying shows that you are committed to understanding their perspective. This process can lead to clarity and a deeper connection between the two of you.
Asking relevant questions is an excellent way to clarify what the speaker is saying. Make them open-ended questions, if possible. A “yes” or “no” answer may confirm, but an explanation offers more information. Probe for feelings. Sometimes the emotions behind the words are more important than the words themselves when someone is seeking to be understood.
10. Keep an Open-Mind
Active listening is about understanding the speaker’s point of view, not necessarily agreeing with it. Defer judgments and don’t make assumptions. Wait until the speaker is finished before formulating opinions. It’s natural to think about what you’re going to say next, especially during times of disagreement. However, you miss what is being said if your own response is your focus.
11. Respond Appropriately
Be open and honest in your responses. Share your thoughts, insights, and feelings in a straightforward, but respectful and considerate manner. Acknowledge the speaker’s concerns and thoughts, even if you disagree. Especially when you disagree, a thoughtful response can lead to a deeper understanding between the two of you.
Active listening is a fundamental tool for good communication. Remember that listening is not just a way to gather information and share ideas, but to gain perspective and understanding. It takes practice to develop active listening skills, and it’s a habit that has to be reinforced regularly. Remind yourself that the goal of conversation is not merely to trade words but to truly understand what the other party is saying and to be understood in turn.
By implementing these tips, you can strengthen your active listening skills and improve your communication with those around you more effectively.
Tags: communication, active listening, interpersonal relationships, tips, skills.