7 Ways to Practise Active Listening (Plus Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Effective communication entails active listening, which is when you're paying close attention to the speaker's message in a conversation and creating an effective response. You may find establishing this skill in your life may have a positive effect on your personal and professional life. Learning how to practise active listening during your conversations with others can help improve your work performance and personal relationships. In this article, we discuss what active listening is, including the purpose of it, seven steps you can take to practise the skill and the benefits of implementing it into your communication skills.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a communication skill that involves listening and responding to an individual during a conversation attentively. This can involve you paying attention to the verbal and nonverbal messages the other person is communicating with you while also being aware of the messages you're communicating verbally and nonverbally. Verbal communication is any words said during a conversation. Nonverbal communication can include an individual's body language, facial expressions and posture. These signs may show how the person is feeling about the conversation or the message they're trying to convey to you. Examples of active listening can include:

  • nodding

  • asking clarifying questions

  • reflecting their ideas to them

  • summarising

  • mirroring

  • smiling

Related: What Are Active Listening Skills? (Definition and Examples)

What is the purpose of active listening?

The purpose of active listening is to gain an understanding of the message an individual is expressing and to earn their trust. During a conversation with you, an individual may desire to feel heard and gain support. This is when you can express empathy and support to the other person. Active listening differs from critical listening because you're accepting the expressed message to help the individual rather than inserting your opinions and evaluating the message they're communicating. You may find it beneficial to recognise habits to break to improve your active listening skills, such as:

  • interrupting

  • daydreaming

  • forgetting to ask clarifying questions

  • ignoring the underlying meaning of the message

Related: How to Improve Your Communication Skills at Work in 10 Steps

How to practise active listening in 7 steps

Here are some steps you can follow to practise your active listening skills:

1. Show interest by asking questions

One way for you to practise active listening is by showing your genuine interest in the conversation by asking questions. If you're unsure what they meant by an idea they expressed, politely interrupt them to ask them to clarify their ideas. Additionally, ask follow-up questions about the ideas they've expressed. This shows the other individual you care about what they're sharing with you and it can encourage them to keep speaking. Generating and asking questions also helps you remain engaged in the conversation and keep your mind on the topic.

2. Pay attention to nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is important to consider and pay attention to when speaking with others because it improves your ability to create meaningful interactions with others. Understanding the different types of nonverbal communication helps you relate to and engage in the conversation more because it adds emphasis to the message of the speaker. Some of the nonverbal behaviours you can observe to hear more about the message and the individual's emotions may include their tone of voice, facial expressions and arms gestures. Paying attention to how someone is communicating nonverbally may also show you how you express empathy towards them.

3. Study active listening

Plan time to study what active listening looks and sounds like, which helps you learn how to emulate it and observe it in conversations. Study active listening by watching recorded interviews, either on television or online, and notice how both parties of the conversation interact verbally and nonverbally. You may also determine the mistakes in active listening that you don't desire to repeat, which may also help you learn the skill.

Additionally, ask your friends and family to have a conversation with you as you practise your active listening skills. After the conversation, ask them for feedback on how you did. This way, you know where you may improve on your skills.

Related: How to Use Effective Communication in the Workplace

4. Focus on the conversation

Maintaining your focus on the conversation helps keep you engaged in the conversation. You may find it hard to keep yourself from getting distracted during long or challenging conversations. To avoid this, redirect your focus when you notice yourself thinking about other topics aside from the conversation. Bring your mind back to the conversation by apologising and asking the speaker to repeat themselves, so you miss nothing from their message. Another way to maintain your focus during a conversation is to remove yourself from your mind. This can help you focus and take part in the conversation.

5. Apply patience

If you have patience while listening during a conversation, you're allowing the speaker to express their thoughts and feelings to you. Patience may make you seem more approachable for others to start a conversation with you because they know you're going to listen to them. As a listener, your patience allows you to hear the message of the speaker and get to know their feelings on the subject. The more you understand an individual's thoughts and feelings on a topic, it helps you in forming a well-thought-out response to them. A well-formed response may make the speaker feel valued.

6. Be receptive to the conversation

It's important to be receptive to the conversation you're having with an individual. Being receptive to a conversation means you're allowing the speaker space to share their thoughts and feelings without judgement and showing them you're open to hearing their opinions. This also means avoiding changing the subject abruptly. If you get uncomfortable with the message the speaker is sharing, you can use I statements. I statements take ownership of your feelings rather than placing the blame on the other individual.

Additionally, if you think of another topic based on something the speaker brought up, wait for an appropriate time to bring it up. When you make sure you're not interrupting the speaker and giving them the time to share their thoughts, it may make them feel supported.

7. Minimise your movements

Mirroring is a helpful active listening tool that signals to the speaker that you're listening to their message as you copy their subtle movements during the conversation. This can look like matching the speaker's voice, words and nonverbal communication cues, such as their body posture and gestures. It's also helpful to minimise your movements during a conversation, such as fidgeting. Fidgeting can distract you and the speaker from the conversation and may signal the wrong message to the speaker that you're not listening to the conversation.

To avoid this, if you fidget, take a few deep breaths or hold your hands together in front of you if you're sitting at a table.

Benefits of implementing active listening into your conversations

Here are a few benefits of participating in active listening:

Improve your relationships

One benefit of practising active listening in your conversations is that it can help you improve your relationships. It allows you to gain an understanding of another individual's point of view. When you have an insight into an individual's emotions, opinions and thoughts, it allows you to get to know them better. To understand others better, you can ask them further questions about their topic as a component of active listening. Additionally, both parties may find active listening makes them feel validated in their emotions and thoughts.

Increase your work performance

Another benefit of implementing active listening is that it can help increase your work performance and gain a better understanding of a challenge the workplace is encountering. When you understand a challenge better, it allows you to make an informed decision about how to solve it. Asking follow-up questions to clarify instructions from your manager is also a way to use active listening to increase your work performance. Your managers and colleagues can observe your patience and understatement when you apply your listening skills during conversations with them.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills in the Workplace

Develop your social skills

Developing your social skills is another benefit of active listening because you can use it when meeting new individuals. When you meet someone new for the first time, you can use these skills to get to know them, ask them questions about themselves, for clarification and follow-up questions based on what they previously shared with you. Observe their body language during the first interaction to determine how they might feel about the conversation. Utilising active listening can encourage the speaker to talk for a longer amount of time, which can help you develop a friendship with them.

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