Active listening seems to be on everybody’s lips nowadays and you might have tired of hearing how important it is and how great it is for you in building relationships, efficient communication and in leadership. If you already practice active listening, you know that this is perfectly true, and you are aware of the important impact active listening has in your personal and professional life.
If you feel that active listening is just another buzz word and you have not yet experienced its benefits in practice, I invite you to be curious about it and hope that you will find some insights in this article.
What is active listening ? How to listen actively ?
We’ve all experienced being listened to in a really profound way and we have done it ourselves at some point for sure. So, take a moment and reflect on this:
- Think of a situation where you felt you were truly listened.
- How did it feel?
- What did the person do that made you feel listened to?
- Think of a situation when you truly listened to somebody else.
- How was it to do that?
- What did you do or did not do in those moments?
Active listening goes beyond following a set of ‘rules’ such as nodding your head and paying attention to somebody else’s body language. Of course, you will inevitably do that when your only focus is to hear what the other person has to say. However, active listening is about being truly connected to the person in front of you, hear them out, be curious about their whole person and want to hear more.
Benefits of active listening
You will notice that if you do this intentionally the person in front of you will open up even more, they will feel safe to talk to you and trust you.
- In what area of your life do you want to bring this trust and openness even more? It could be in personal relationships (with you partner, child, friends) or with business partners and clients.
As for you, when you are fully engaged into what the other person is saying, you feel more relaxed and less pressured to perform, convince and say something just for the sake of having a reply. And that is ok: it is in those moments that you will open yourself up for having replies that are creative, authentic, and more relevant to your conversation partner.
- What would this bring you?
- How will this affect your interactions with other people?
How do you recognize if you are listening actively? Mistakes we do when listening
You will know when you are listening actively, you will feel it even though you might not be able to explain what happened exactly, at least in the beginning. You are listening actively when all you see, hear, and think of is the person in front of you and the string of your own thoughts, opinions and judgments is interrupted.
The most common mistake we do when we listen is to relate what we hear to our own experiences, opinions, values. And there is nothing wrong with that, but if you want to practice active listening you must be aware of when that happens and make it an intention to refrain from doing what comes naturally easy to you and instead shift your undivided attention to the person you are talking to.
How to become an active listener?
There is no magic recipe or quick fix for this, as is the case with anything that you want to be durable in your life and truly make an impact.
Being an active listener is also strongly connected to being self-aware: your ability to look at yourself from outside, to observe your thoughts, behavior, and emotions. It is up to you to practice active listening whenever it is suitable for you: make an intention out of it and remember to focus on the person in front of you.
Remember also to take it step by step, have realistic expectations (sometimes it will be easy to do it and sometimes it will be hard), be compassionate with yourself (don’t beat yourself up when it does not work out perfectly) and celebrate whenever you feel you did a great job at listening!
Take a moment and reflect on this:
- In what context do you have the energy to practice active listening?
- How often do you want to do it?
- What type of support do you need to make it happen?
- When do you want to start?
Active listening in coaching
Active listening is one of the ICF Core Competencies.
There is no coaching without active listening. Active listening also plays a crucial role in maintaining your coaching presence. All questions and tools will do little if the coach is not listening and is not truly connected to the client. Most impactful questions come to you when you listen, not when you are thinking of what the next right question is. Coaching tools are very useful, but it is not about the tools themselves, but about how you coach around them.