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The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

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The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

Active listening is an active process, it is not just simply giving attention to the speakers, but also to show the verbal and non-verbal signs at the same time to let people know you are really digesting what they are saying.

Video Summary

Most people are not really listening

The average person talks at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute.[1] So our minds are filling in those other 275 words. This shows that we easily succumb to distraction and that efforts are necessary when we want to actively listen to the speakers.

Another reason is hinted by our egocentric self. We love being the spotlight and the centre of conversation, and talking can help us to achieve that! That’s why we tend to listen more than we speak.

How active listening skills make you look much smarter

When you’re actively listening, you’ll make constant feedback. This would make your colleagues and boss think that you’re smart enough to give immediate response and contributing a lot.

How active listening skills make you a charismatic person

“The irony of being a good conversationalist is that talking isn’t the most important piece; listening is what makes you memorable.”

The essence of being a good communicator is your role played in LISTENING, not talking. Imagine that when you come to a friend and talk about a issue that troubles he/she recently, what you are seeking for is a pair of empathetic ears, and an embracing heart. You are not really trying to ask for another person to solve the problem, you just want the other to listen and UNDERSTAND. So, when you actively listen to him/her, you can better understand the person’s situation by detecting his/her emotional changes, the way he/she speaks, and so you can make thoughtful comments to him/her.

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Here’re some useful ways to become an more active listener!

Active listening skills: verbal signs

Paraphrase and make a brief summary

After listening, you can make a short response by briefly summarising the content. When you paraphrase, it can also help your understand what the conversation really means by having you to present the same thing in a different way. Meanwhile, your speaker can also get a chance to clarify when he/she finds something is mis-understood.

Ask questions to show your interest or to clarify

By raising questions, your speaker will think that they are being given attention to and that you are really listening to them. You can show your interest in that topics by asking for more details.

For example, when your boss comes to you in the morning and assign you with a bunch of tasks, and say that every task is highly important and deadline are all hitting very soon. But throughout his conversation, you can notice some particular tasks that he places an emphasis on. So, when your boss have done his talking, you can ask “So it looks like that A and B takes more time and are the focus of the company’s current strategies. So, should I first work on these two projects first?”. And then your boss will be amazed that you really”get” him and know his point, so he will think that YOU are a worker that really understand him and think you two share similar thoughts, so he will like you more and develop a closer relationship!

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Active listening skills: non verbal signs

Make appropriate eye contact

Having eye contact with your speaker is natural and encouraging to the speaker. It shows that you are really listening and trying to understand the content.

But pay attention to your way of looking at others, make sure it is gentle, not too firm and intimidating. Also, be aware of the duration of each eye contact because shy speakers may find themselves feeling embarrassed.

Keep your posture open and welcoming

An open and welcoming gesture can really help the speaker to communicate better. For example, by leaning forward, resting your head on one your hand can show that you are actively listening and welcome the speaker the speak more!

Nod and smile

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Nodding and smiling while you listen are also very positive and affirming signs to the speaker. You show that you are agreeing with what he/she said and everyone LOVES being agreed on. Also, you show that you like the content as well, not hating it!

For example, when your colleague has her presentation on her approach to the problem displayed. When you nod and smile when you find yourself agreeing with her point, that can be really affirming signs to her, and she LOVES it. That assuring actions instantly reduce her fear and feel more confident to continue her point. Your active listening is especially more empowering when most people in the meeting are looking bored and crossing their arms!

One little trick: mimic the body language of the speaker

A little trick of doing the non-verbal communication is that you can simply MIMICK the body language of your speaker! This trick is especially helpful when your speaker talk about an emotional incident. This will make them feel that you really empathize with them.

Want to learn more about active listening skills and be an effective communicator?

3 books we highly recommend:

The Lost Art of Listening, by Michael P. Nichols PhD

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This practical books shares some insights on how to become a better listener, as well as to communicate your idea more effectively. Michael vividly guides you by giving examples of real life situation, easy- to-grasp techniques and practical exercise that you can work on at home.

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston M.D.

This book particularly suits those who work in the business field. This former business coach shares insights on the art of persuading people, and the key role of listening played in that. It emphasises on how effective listening helps you show show your empathy, and so bridges the gap and break the walls between you and your resistant-looking clients.

Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others, by Andrew Sobel

This absorbing book has its focus on the skills of asking questions. It highlights the powerful impact of an inquisitive and provoking question by sharing the real conversations made by 35 CEO, billionaires and friends. It also thoughtfully provides more than 200 questions that readers can apply when facing challenges at work.

Reference

More by this author

Lilian Tang

Traveller, food lover (especailly sushi!)

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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