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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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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