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Published on May 27, 2019

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.

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 August 19, 2019

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

That’s where we all should be.

So, answer me this:

How are you, really?

And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

It’s taking control.

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2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

Change will happen.

Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

“Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

“If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

What would you do if you felt you were enough?

By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

Final Thoughts

By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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