“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
-Ralph G. Nichols
What makes a good listener feature in most people’s list of ideal partner qualities? That’s because a good listener makes you feel understood, valued, & respected — basically, validated. And active listening skills give you the tools to make the other person feel just that.
When we let others work through their own issues simply by being there, encouraging them to explore their thoughts & see things more clearly, we are respecting their innate intelligence in coming up with a solution.
You are simply providing a safe space where they can create a verbal mind map of their thoughts. And so, you are helping them to work through their feelings & issues on their own without them feeling judged or considering you condescending for giving unasked-for advice.
Why is active listening skill important?
Active listening isn’t just about letting the other person speak. It’s about offering emotional support without speaking, respecting the other person, encouraging them to explore their thoughts, & letting them feel understood without judgment.
“The worst of all listeners is the man who does nothing but listens.”
Being a good listener adds value to every important aspect of our life.
Good communication is one of the most essential things when it comes to relationships. It’s as much about listening as it’s about sharing your thoughts. Whether it’s your love life, family, friends, or co-workers, good communication is one of the most important things that’ll decide whether you have a great time connecting with them or a bumpy ride.
When you actually listen, not just hear what the other person is saying, & show it to them, they feel empowered & validated in the relationship. That feeling of belonging can successfully carry relationships over rough patches & hard times.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
— Roy T. Bennett
Listening actively will also give you a better insight into the person you are communicating with. You get to know the best ways to keep that connection thriving. You also get more clarity about how much you want to invest yourself in that relationship to be able to still protect your own happiness by avoiding those “if only I had seen through that before” regret moments.
Active listening skills make the other person feel special. When you make others feel special, they warm up towards you, open up more & invite you into their friend circle. It makes you more relatable helping you make friends faster.
We always prefer people who can recall something special & specific about us and so in turn we remember them over others.
Whom would you remember more the next time you meet them — that friend of a friend you were introduced to who asked about your car problem the next time you met them? Or, the one who can barely remember your name?
That’s active listening in real life.
When you give your undivided attention to what’s being said you don’t miss out on important facts. But with added active listening skills, you’re able to understand even the untold things from subtle nonverbal hints that can give you the edge over others.
It’ll help resolve confrontations at the workplace effectively with a better understanding & acknowledgement of clashing perspectives of team members.
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
— Bernard M. Baruch
It’ll help you get a deeper understanding of the facts, opportunities, & situations to help make the right decisions. You learn more and are able to explore new opportunities — basically, your horizon widens considerably.
Active listening is a skill that requires a lot of patience, understanding, & flexibility of perspective in life. Personal growth is all about adding positively to what you have today.
And mastering this skill will give you a level of emotional maturity that not only makes you more trustworthy & a better decision-maker but also a more evolved human being.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
— Dalai Lama
You can strip down the motivating factor behind your life goals to either success, happiness, or peace of mind in different proportions. But to reach these life goals, everyone has to grow in one way or other.
Listening is as much a part of that journey as is taking action because it helps you learn & understand better. It’s about getting to the core of thoughts, ideas, & facts — one of the most important elements of effective efficient action.
How to be a better listener using active listening skills?
1. It all begins with you:
Begin by being mindful of your own thoughts. Are you giving your undivided attention to the speaker? Avoid any kind of distraction like the dings on your phone. They can wait.
When you are mindful of what the person is saying, doing, and trying to convey through unspoken words, you remember what’s being said better. Noting & remembering the ideas & feelings that weren’t said out aloud is one of the main indications of being an effective listener.
It’s normal to get distracted by other things going around you if you aren’t in a quiet or peaceful environment. Stay aware of when you are losing focus & pull yourself back to the conversation.
Our mind tends to wander off-topic when the discussion isn’t interesting enough. Remember the reason why you’re in this conversation in the first place. Keep reminding yourself that and also that your role is to help the other person explore their thoughts & feelings.
It takes empathy & persistence to be an effective listener.
2. What’s didn’t they say:
Nonverbal indicators give you a peek into people’s subconscious. What does their tone of voice tell you about their present emotional state? What do their hand gestures & body language tell you about their attitude right now?
Remember that the other person is trying to find his/her way through all the overlapping & branching thoughts, emotions, ideas, & feelings. Give them your quiet attention so that their chain of thought isn’t broken. But at the same time, note all the nonverbal cues.
These will help you understand what they are truly trying to communicate and not just what they are saying. When you simply listen to what’s being said, it’s normal to get a “you are not getting the point.”
For example, someone’s telling you about their day and that everything seemed to go wrong from the morning. If you pay attention to their nonverbal cues you would be able to figure out what was the one thing that cast a shadow on every other experience.
Maybe they thought they had done an exceptional job only to end up receiving criticism for something very minor. That made them focus on the negative side of everything that happened with them throughout the day.
And so, you’ll be in a better position to guide the discussion that way & offer support that makes the other person feel “he/she really gets me”.
You can make someone feel understood without them spelling everything out if you stay mindful of their nonverbal cues & prompt them through the discussion in a way that helps them process their muddled thoughts.
3. How good is your nonverbal language skill?
When someone is telling you something, they’re looking for nonverbal cues from you too to gauge your level of interest in the conversation.
How long are you likely to continue your conversation if the other person keeps rearranging things on the table, checking their phone, or seems more interested in whatever is going around you?
Show empathy as well as sympathy whenever appropriate to show your interest. Nod to show you are in the conversation, but remember nodding too vigorously will show you want to hurry them along. These are subtle gestures but have as big an effect as spoken words.
Research shows that people feel more understood when their & the listener’s gestures match. So, match their eye contact, hand movements, body stance in a natural way. Take care not to seem like you are playing a monkey-see-monkey-do game. Just focus on giving them positive nonverbal feedback.
4. Don’t wait your turn:
Just like white space offers contrast for the visual elements to have bigger impact in photography, home décor, advertisements, & painting…your silence too as a listener plays a strong role in any conversation.
Don’t wait for your turn but let them finish & pitch in when there’s an organic pause.
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” — Simon Sinek
Be patient. Don’t interrupt the speaker or hurry them with prompts like “go on, go on” or nodding too vigorously.
Be silent but don’t let your mind wander off. Keep encouraging them to speak with nonverbal prompts like hmm, right etc. Maintain a relaxed vibe and pay attention to what’s being said.
When you pitch in, don’t change the subject, don’t repeat the last spoken sentence, and avoid saying anything that sounds judgmental. Instead,
- Summarize what they just said & ask an encouraging question like “so you feel…”. Or,
- Ask them what they think is the solution. Like. “so, what do you think it really was about?” Or,
- List the solutions that were touched on during the conversation & ask them which one do they prefer, “So you think either_____ or ____or _____should be done?”
5. Be tolerant:
Listening to others with an open mind is important because people have different personalities and that is what makes each one of us unique. You don’t have to like everyone’s take on life, just being tolerant is a great first step.
It’s important that you go into a conversation with an open mind. Be ready to look at things from the other person’s perspective too. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when the conversation turns uncomfortable. It’s tough to stay calm & concentrate when all you want to do is speak your mind.
The trick is to take a step back whenever you find yourself ready to react than respond. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down and also buy time to review & edit your response. The intensity & timing of your reaction can decide whether you are a good listener or not.
The reason those with good listening skills stand out from others is that…they go in with an intention to help others explore their thoughts and not to judge.
If someone wanted to be judged, the easiest way would be to post their thought on social media. They are not doing that but prefer speaking to you for a reason.
- Remind yourself of the reason why that person is discussing something with ‘you’ and no one else.
- Focus on helping them explore their thoughts & keeping it on-topic right now. There will always be time to explore your feelings about the topic later.
- If you really want to, ask permission before offering any advice.
- Don’t get lost in rabbit tracks. Just keep your focus on leading the discussion towards a solution. It will help you to handle tough or emotionally charged situations with a calmer & mature outlook.
“We all have a good listener within us. It all just depends on the ability and desire to be mindful of where you are and who you’re talking to.”
— Paul Sacco
The need for being understood & heard without judgment is one of our basic unspoken needs. Effective listening makes you more relatable because you are basically reflecting back what’s within them.
Active listening skills improve and broaden our understanding of life. It helps us become evolved and mature in the true sense.