In this article on how to practice active listening, I share with you 10 tips you can quickly apply to start communicating more effectively with others.
Discover my tips now.
1- Listen to understand
Listening to understand means adopting an attitude of openness, a mental readiness to welcome others and what they have to say, without filtering it through our own concerns, beliefs, or expectations.
Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say to the other person, your sole aim should be to understand what they’re trying to tell you.
Here’s an example to help you understand this paragraph.
Imagine you’re talking to a friend who has just lost his job.
Instead of immediately looking for solutions or offering advice – an attitude that could be perceived as intrusive or disrespectful – take the time to listen to his or her experience, feelings, and concerns.
Sometimes, people simply need to be heard, not necessarily to receive advice or solutions. In this case, your role is not to solve the problem, but to offer an attentive, empathetic, and caring presence.
Listening for understanding requires patience, self-control, and great humility. We have to accept that we don’t have all the answers, that we can’t solve every problem.
It means accepting that the person we’re talking to is the master of his or her own life and that he or she is capable if given the means and support, of finding their own solutions to their difficulties. Our role is to support them in this process, by offering them a free, secure, and non-judgmental space in which to express themselves.
The next time you find yourself in conversation with someone, make a conscious effort to listen.
Try to understand his or her point of view, feelings, desires, and fears. Put aside your perceptions and concerns, and give them your undivided attention. You may be surprised at the depth of connection and empathy this simple practice can engender.
Now let’s move on to the next tip, which is to feel the other person’s emotions.
2 – Feel the other person’s emotions
Active listening involves more than just a rational understanding of what the other person is saying. It also involves a genuine emotional connection. One of the most powerful aspects of active listening is the ability to feel the other person’s emotions.
On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by those same emotions. If you do, you won’t be able to help. Learning to be an active listener will enable you to handle such situations more effectively.
On the one hand, emotional listening requires a certain openness to the other person, but on the other hand, effective listening also requires you to control your emotions.
Ask questions to help the person you’re listening to identify and experience his or her emotions, to give them a meaning that will enable him or her to move forward in life.
This person may be experiencing strong emotions that will make them cry or feel very sad.
The important thing is for you to show that you’re listening.
Then, if you realize that you have aspects of your life that require professional guidance, don’t hesitate to call in a life coach.
Now let’s move on to the next tip, which is to observe non-verbals.
3 – Observe the non-verbal
Active listening is a complex process because beyond what is expressed verbally, our bodies often communicate much more.
In fact, a large proportion of our exchanges take place via the non-verbal channel: gestures, facial expressions, gaze, intonation. Your role is to decipher these signals to gain a richer, more global understanding of the person you’re talking to.
Let’s imagine a common situation. You’re in a meeting, and a colleague is presenting a project he’s been working on for weeks. His words testify to his commitment, but you notice a discrepancy between his speech and his behavior. Perhaps he’s avoiding your gaze, or his hands seem slightly shaky. These non-verbal elements can give you valuable information about his true feelings.
Reading non-verbals is an art that can be cultivated with experience. You may find it tricky to pay attention to words and gestures at the same time. However, as you practice empathic listening, it will become a habit. By consciously focusing on the non-verbal, you’ll begin to perceive subtle details that will enrich your understanding of the other person.
Finally, active listening is about immersing yourself totally in communication with the other person. It’s about giving importance not only to what is said but also to what comes through in more subtle ways. This ability to understand the whole message transforms ordinary listening into active listening.
However, at the beginning of your active listening practice, try not to set the bar too high and be satisfied with first understanding what is being said and then perceiving the non-verbal aspects of the communication.
Now, let’s move on to the next tip, which is to eliminate all distractions.
4 – Eliminate distractions
To actively listen to others, we need to identify and eliminate all distractions.
These distractions may be related to the place we’re in or may depend on our habits.
This is why it’s so important to conduct your most important conversations in calm environments, where sources of visual distraction are reduced as much as possible.
If you have the bad habit of being glued to your smartphone all the time, switch it off before starting an important conversation.
To maintain a good level of concentration, you can practice activities such as meditation, cardiac coherence, etc. before your appointment.
These activities help to calm your mind and strengthen your ability to focus on what’s important.
Sometimes, our interlocutor can also distract us, for example, if he or she has an unusual style of dress or attitude.
In these cases, you can express what you’re feeling in a friendly way to better manage your emotions and your ability to stay focused on the conversation.
Now, let’s move on to the next tip, which is to be at your most energetic.
5 – Make the most of your energy
Active listening requires both physical and mental energy. It’s not passive listening where you can let your mind wander.
No, active listening requires intense, sustained concentration. That’s why it’s essential to be at your most energetic during important conversations.
To achieve this, you need to get enough sleep, manage stress, reduce your mental workload, and eat a balanced diet.
Think of a time when you’ve tried to hold a serious conversation after a long day’s work when you’re exhausted and your brain is overloaded. Is your ability to practice active listening the same as when you’re refreshed? Probably not.
If you know you’re going to have an important conversation, try to schedule it for a time when you know you’ll be at your most energetic, and therefore in line with your chronotype.
If you’re a morning person, try to have the conversation early in the day. If you’re more energetic at the end of the day, schedule it accordingly. Here’s a test to find out your chronotype.
Similarly, before starting a conversation, take a moment to check your energy level. If you’re feeling tired or distracted, it might help to take a short break to refocus and revitalize yourself. Perhaps a few minutes of meditation or a short walk could help you recharge your batteries.
If you can, try to postpone an important conversation so that you can present yourself to the best of your abilities and energies.
Now let’s move on to the next tip, which is to summarize what you’ve understood.
6 – Summarize what you’ve understood
Summarizing what you’ve understood may seem like a simple task, but it’s an art that takes practice to master.
Sometimes, due to a lack of experience, you may be tempted to summarize too quickly, skip over important details or interpret words through your own worldview.
That’s why it’s essential to learn how to summarize accurately and objectively.
For example, let’s say you’re having a conversation with your partner about an upcoming vacation. He expresses his concerns about planning the trip, mentioning elements such as budget, destination, and accommodation. Your goal is to understand not only the concrete details of what he’s saying but also the underlying feelings and concerns.
An effective summary might be: “I can see you’re a little worried about our vacation. You’re wondering how we’re going to manage the budget, and you’re still unsure about the destination and accommodation. Have I got this right?”
By asking this question at the end, you give your interlocutor the opportunity to confirm or correct your summary. This simple question shows that you’re open to the possibility of not having understood everything perfectly and that you’re ready to listen again if necessary.
Summarizing what you’ve understood goes far beyond simply repeating the words you’ve heard. It implies as we saw in the first tip, a willingness to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their point of view. It’s a valuable tool that can greatly improve the quality of your communication at work and in your private life.
Now, let’s move on to the next tip, which is to rephrase what you’ve understood.
7 – Rephrase what the other person is saying
Rephrasing is another essential component of active listening. This approach involves taking your interlocutor’s speech and repeating it using your own words, to show that you’ve understood his or her message and providing an opportunity for further clarification if necessary.
Imagine a work situation where your manager explains a complicated new procedure. Instead of simply nodding and risking misunderstanding, you could rephrase what he’s said: “So, if I’ve understood correctly, the first step is to check the data in the system, then I need to do an analysis to identify any errors, and finally I document the results in our database. Is this correct?”
Rephrasing facilitates mutual respect. It reduces misunderstandings and potential conflicts while strengthening the relationship between you and your interlocutor.
However, it’s important to distinguish between reformulation and interpretation. Your aim is not to add your opinion or judge what has been said, but to check that you have understood correctly. It takes time and practice to master this skill, but it can transform your communication abilities.
Once again, your aim is to understand the other person’s point of view.
Now, let’s move on to the next tip: don’t make assumptions.
8 – Don’t assume anything
Learning not to make assumptions is essential to ensure that you understand the person you’re talking to. But doing so is also important to avoid any kind of judgment.
Be curious, and when in doubt, keep asking questions. Don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. If you show that you’re listening to the other person and doing your best to understand what they’re going through, you’ll get all the answers you need.
To illustrate the risk of assuming something, imagine a situation at work. Your colleague, usually very communicative and full of energy, has suddenly changed his behavior. He has become silent and seems to be avoiding interaction. It would be easy to assume that he’s angry with you, or that he’s hiding something. However, this assumption could be completely wrong. Perhaps he’s simply overwhelmed by a heavy workload, or going through a difficult period in his personal life.
Instead of falling into the trap of making assumptions, activate your listening skills. Ask open, caring questions to encourage your colleague to express how they really feel. You might say: “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit quiet today. Is there something on your mind?”
By refusing to make assumptions and seeking to truly understand the other person, you foster authentic, respectful communication. You strengthen your relationship and avoid unnecessary conflicts based on false assumptions.
By continuing to take an interest in the other person, you’ll be able to understand what their real experience is.
Let’s move on to the next tip, which is to use silence effectively.
9 – Use silence
Silence is one of the most powerful tools you can use to help the other person clarify their thoughts.
The practice of silence can be intimidating, especially at first, because we often feel the urge to fill any empty space in our communication.
But being silent from time to time is an excellent gift you can give to someone who needs to confront themselves.
It’s in this space that you allow the person you’re talking to ask themselves the right questions and find the answers that will help them regain the clarity they need.
It’s through this clarity that this person can make the best choices for their professional and personal life.
If you’re having trouble making the right decision, I invite you to read my article on how to make decisions.
Now, let’s move on to the next tip, which is to ask the right questions.
10 – Ask the right questions
Now we’ve reached the final stage of our journey into the world of active listening. Learning to ask the right questions can help deepen the conversation, clarify points of view, and encourage the other person to express themselves further.
Imagine you’re a manager trying to understand why a member of your team is constantly late. Instead of making assumptions or judgments, you could ask open-ended questions to invite further discussion: “I’ve noticed you’ve been coming in late a lot lately. Can you tell me what’s going on? Are there any obstacles I’m not aware of? How could we improve the situation together?”
Asking the right questions requires a certain finesse. It’s not about bombarding the other person with questions or conducting an interrogation. Rather, the aim is to create a safe space where the other feels free to share his or her thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged.
The best way to ask the right questions is to listen to the other person as best you can. If you’re focused on what the other person is telling you verbally and non-verbally, you’ll be able to ask questions that will enable them to step out of their comfort zone and find new solutions.
Conclusion on how to practice active listening
In this article on how to practice active listening, I’ve shared with you 10 tips drawn from my coaching experience.
By applying at least one of these tips, you’ll improve the quality of your communication and your relationships.
To find out more about active listening, I invite you to read my book on active listening or discover the active listening training course.
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