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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

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

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

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.

More Tips for Improving Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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