Active listening skill: 5 ways to develop it

We all know that communication skills are very important aspects to both personal and professional development of anyone. But the importance of communication goes beyond the individual, often extending to groups of people and organizations.

In a process of verbal interpersonal communication, there are two important characteristics to be considered: the speaking and the listening. Although both aspects are equally important, the act of listening is often overlooked in our day-to-day interactions. We may think we are listening when, in fact, the other person’s words are just filtering through our ears.

Why is listening part of verbal communication? Simple. If no one stops to listen to what the other has to say, there will never be an actual dialogue, only be moments of "simultaneous monologues."

Have you ever experienced that moment when you begin to give your opinion on a subject, and before you have finished someone jumps in and says something? Regardless of what they say – be to complement your argument or counter-argue – it doesn’t make us feel good. What is more, this attitude is extremely unfriendly and shows disrespect to who is talking. Unfortunately, such situations are very common in our daily lives, especially in professional environments.

But how to listen better? In a dialogue, it is sometimes more important to know how to listen than to talk. Many times we can be great conversationalists saying little, or often, without even saying a word. This does not mean that we should always be quiet, but rather that we should speak at the right time and, also, speak the right thing.

Below are 5 ways to develop your active listening skills and become a better communicator.

Commit to becoming a better listener

Commitment to change is the first step in ensuring that it really happens. In the case of listening, it means that you need to accept the idea that listening is important, and to start practising active listening in your day-to-day. If you hold a leadership position, this becomes even more important. After all, you must be the one to set the example and commit to listening to your team.

Avoid distractions

Tablets, cell phones, or even a piece of paper to scribble on – all this prevents communication from flowing freely. Even if someone says that he or she knows how to multitask, the act of doing so may bother the speaker, and important messages may no longer be said, or be incomplete. Hence, it is necessary to listen carefully, even with your gestures: look into the speaker’s eyes, nod slightly and keep your hands and posture from distracting the conversation.

Keep quiet

This act may be taken for granted but is probably the most important part of active listening – to simply stop talking. More than refraining from speaking, keeping quiet also involves not making any other sounds that would hinder the conversation and fully pay attention to what the other says. In other words, to keep quiet represents the beginning of the process of listening.

Silence of the mind

This can be a tough listening skill to harness but once mastered it will make a big difference in your conversations. Silencing the mind is when we strive to cease any related and unrelated thoughts and really listen to each other. After all, what is the use of being quiet if I'm thinking about what to do after the meeting ends? Or if I think of the answer I will give to the argument presented by the other? When the other speaks, we must silence our mind to really try to understand what he or she is saying.

Disregard your cultural roots

Even more difficult than keeping quiet or silencing your mind, is the stage of disregarding your cultural roots. Alternatively, this can also be seen as empathy: the idea that it is not enough to try to understand, we must put ourselves in the place of who is speaking and disregard our customs, values and objectives. We should be able to feel what the other is saying rather than just hear it. Although the hardest, this is also the best active listening mode.

Indeed, active listening is not an easy task, however, with daily practice and commitment you can improve your skills and consequently, your relationships.