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How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)
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I am a huge proponent of the power of communication. Effective communication can make nearly every phase of your life better.

Strong communication skills will help you succeed in business and will positively impact your personal relationships. On the other hand, poor communication can lead to a wide variety of challenges in all of your relationships. It’s a skill that can have a profound influence on nearly every phase of your life.

While you might not immediately think of listening as a key component to communication, it really is. Half of all communication is listening.

To be a really good communicator, you have to learn how to truly listen. I can show you how. Follow along to find out how to practice active listening, I will share with you a step by step guide.

What Is Active Listening?

Let’s start with a definition of active listening.

Active listening, like you might guess, means that you are actively listening to the person that is speaking. It means really paying attention to the person as they are talking to you. This is different that the passive hearing that is done in many conversations.

Active listening involves using many of your senses to listen to the person. It also means giving the person your full attention. You need to show the other person that you are truly listening to them, your body language will convey this to the person that is talking to you.

Think of it as your ears truly hearing, your brain thoroughly processing, and the rest of your body showing that you are fully present in the moment and engaged on what is being said. This is a good way to visualize active listening.

The Importance of Active Listening

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of how to practice active listening, let’s first look at why active listening is important.

If you agree that being a good communicator will have great benefits in all of your relationships, then you most likely agree that listening is an important part of communication. And it is.

Here’s a few reasons why it’s well worth practicing active listening whenever possible:

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Builds Mutual Trust

When someone sees that you are actively listening, they immediately think that you care about what they are saying. It’s well known that most of us gain great satisfaction from being understood. It’s one of those things that just makes us feel good.

When you are showing someone that you are very interested in what they are saying, they can’t help but feel like you are seeking to understand them. This in turn greatly affects how much they feel they can trust you.

Boost Self Confidence

People who are good at active listening tend to have higher self esteem and a higher self image. This is because they are skilled at working towards establishing and building strong, positive relationships.

People who do this on a regular basis tend to feel confident in their abilities.

Fewer Mistakes and Less Miscommunication

As you might imagine, if you are practicing active listening, you actually catch lots of details and nuances you might otherwise miss.

If you are simply waiting for someone to finish speaking so you can open your mouth, you are only paying partial attention. And this is a sure fire way to miss some important points.

When you actively listen to someone, you will catch many details and subtleties you might otherwise miss.

Improved Productivity

Imagine you are assigned a project. Now imagine the person who assigned you the project clearly articulates the entire project from start to finish. Then imagine that person actively listening to your responses and clarifying any questions you might have.

As you walk out of that meeting, you have a crystal clear picture of what you need to deliver and how you are going to do it. Isn’t that a nice feeling?

Having someone actively listen to you and clearly communicate will make a world of difference in how productive you are in accomplishing that project. You have a clear road map to get to your destination in a successful manner.

Fewer Arguments

Remember one of the greatest satisfactions we all have is feeling understood. This is very relevant here.

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One of the biggest reasons why arguments tend to escalate is due to a lack of understanding. When we feel someone is truly listening to us, we feel much more understood. And when we feel understood, we trust the other person more and tend to argue less. It becomes much easier to get to a good solution for everyone.

Now, let’s look at how to practice active listening.

How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Here are the steps to being an active listener. This list may seem a little extensive and truthfully, it is kind of long.

Don’t think of it as a checklist that you have to mark off each point as you accomplish it. Rather, view it as a general guideline.

If you can accomplish most of these in important conversations, you are on your way to becoming an active listener!

1. Maintain Eye Contact

You don’t have to be laser focused on someone’s eyes with your own. You do, however, have to maintain regular eye contact with them. This is really more for you than for them.

When you maintain regular eye contact, you are forced to pay attention to that person. It’s less easier to get distracted.

It also conveys to the other person that you care enough about what’s being said that you are looking at them while they speak.

2. Don’t Fidget Too Much

Look, re-arranging and getting comfortable from time to time is fine. What’s not fine is constantly playing with a pen or picking up your phone or looking all over the place.

Being fidgety gives the impression that you aren’t interested in what the other person is saying.

3. No Interrupting

Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you need to get clarification on a certain point, it’s okay to ask politely.

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What you don’t want to be doing is interrupting someone every other sentence to make your own point. Or to add your own color into the conversation.

What you are supposed to be doing is listening, not talking.

4. Watch the Non Verbal Clues

Much of communication happens in a non-verbal manner. That means you can pick up a lot of what a person is communicating to you through their body language and not the actual words coming out of their mouths.

Watch the non verbal clues that the other person is giving off while speaking. If they are uncomfortable, they might fidget. If they are nervous, they may not look you in the eye. These types of non verbal clues can help you hone in on how the other person is feeling.

5. Restate and Clarify

Sometimes when someone is speaking to us, it’s not as clear as we’d like. When needed, restate what the other person has said and don’t be afraid to clarify.

You can say things like “To make sure I understand what I am hearing you say is ….. is that correct?”.

Also, saying something like “So what I am hearing is ….. and”. This gives the other person an opportunity to ensure they are telling you everything they need to. It also shows that you care enough to ask a question to make sure you understand.

6. Use Some Encouragers

When someone has a hard time getting through everything, it’s okay to provide some light encouragement here and there to get them to continue speaking or sharing more details.

You don’t want to rush into it but when someone seems to be in the middle of telling a story and comes to a halt, you can say something short like “and then” or “what happened next” or “did Bob have a response to that”.

Nothing that is going to take over the conversation but small pieces of encouragement here and there as needed.

7. Probing

It’s perfectly fine to probe for more information when needed. Remember that your goal isn’t to take over the conversation, it’s to actively listen to the other person.

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Now when you feel there could be more relevant information that hasn’t come out yet, it’s fine to ask a few probing questions.

Asking things such as “how did that make you feel” or “what do you think is the best way to handle that situation” are good ways to get the other person to share more about how they feel. This helps you understand the situation better.

8. Minimal Talking

I’ve hinted at it numerous times during the step by step process to active listening but, it’s worth its own bullet point.

Remember, to be an active listener, you should listen. You are seeking to really listen and understand the other person. Your role here is not to talk much.

I can certainly have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when I have something to add. I have to take an inward deep breath, pause, and keep my mouth shut. I then ensure I am focused on what the other person is telling me.

Being an active listener means listening with minimal talking.

9. Validate

Going back to how we all seek to be understood, it’s a good idea to validate the other person. Saying things such as “I understand how that would upset you” and “I probably would have reacted the same way” makes the other person feel like you are on their side.

Like you empathize with them and understand them. This again will help form trust in the conversation and in the relationship. Validating someone is huge.

The Bottom Line

There you have it. A step by step guide on how to practice active listening.

Strong communication skills will help you in every relationship in your life. This includes work and personal relationships. If you can develop active listening skills, you will give your communication skills a huge boost.

Listening is half of all communication. Do yourself a favor and work on your active listening skills. It can have a dramatic impact on the success you have at work and in your close personal relationships.

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More Tips for Improving Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

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

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