Advertising
Advertising

Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

Listening is arguably the most important element of interpersonal communication. Our ability to listen well impacts the quality of all of our relationships, and not just at home with our family and friends—it can also affect our relationships and interactions on the job, as well as the effectiveness and quality of our work.

Listening is not something that comes naturally or easily for most of us, however; it is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced. Active listening means, as its name suggests, means that we make a conscious and concerted effort to fully engage with the speaker. Active listening is the difference between simply hearing, and listening with the intent to truly understand. It is a subtle but important distinction.

A Few Active Listening Guidelines

Give focused attention – Try to minimize external distractions. Turn down the noise, and put down or step away from what you’re doing if possible. Also, set aside other internal thinking and dialogue. Don’t watch the clock, fidget or go over your to-do list for later.

Advertising

Maintain eye contact – Direct eye contact shows your attention and intention to listen. This doesn’t mean stare though. Intense eye contact can be intimidating to some—especially the shy or introverted. Be reasonable, but try not to let your eyes wander to whatever is going on around you.

Smile – Facial expressions convey a lot, and a smile is open, inviting, and encouraging.

Watch body language Be conscious of your body language. Keep an open posture, a non-aggressive stance, face the speaker(s), lean in rather than away, watch your hands, how you tilt your head and your expressions. (For instance, I tend to cross my arms in front of me because it feels comfortable and wrinkle my brow because I’m concentrating, but this body language can appear defensive or critical, so I need to make an effort to soften a bit.) Pay attention to the speaker’s body language as well. It works both ways.

Advertising

Offer encouragement – Nod occasionally, and offer a judiciously placed ‘Yes,’ “OK”. ‘I understand”, or “Good”. Just be careful not to overdo it or you risk coming across as irritating or rushing. If used sparingly and authentically, encouragement is affirming.

Allow silence – Silence in a conversation can be scary, but a pause allows the speaker to gather their thoughts and for you to digest what is being said.

Don’t interrupt! – It’s disrespectful and distracting.

Advertising

Reflect back – Restate, but don’t repeat verbatim. Paraphrase what you think the other party is saying with responses such as: “What I’m hearing is…” or “Let me see if I’m following you…” Reflecting back what you’ve heard signals that you’re attempting to understand fully.

Clarify – Ask relevant questions to make sure you understand. Make them open-ended questions, if possible. A “yes” or “no” may confirm, but an explanation offers more information. Probe for feelings. Sometimes the emotions behind the words are more important than the words themselves when someone is seeking to be understood.

Keep an open-mind – Defer judgments, whether agreement or disagreement and don’t make assumptions. Wait until the speaker is finished before formulating opinions. It’s so hard not to think about what you’re going to say next, especially if there’s disagreement, but you miss what is being said if you’re thinking about your own response.

Advertising

Respond appropriately – Be open and honest in your responses. Share your thoughts, insights and feelings in a clear, but respectful and considerate manner. You can acknowledge the speaker’s concerns and thoughts even if you disagree…especially when you disagree.

Active listening is a model for good communication. Remember that listening is not just to gather information and share ideas, but also to gain perspective and understanding. It takes practice to develop active listening skills, and it’s a habit that has to be reinforced. Remind yourself that the goal of conversation is not merely to trade words, but to truly understand what the other party is saying and to be understood in turn.

More by this author

How to Flow Your Way to a More Productive Life 35 Reasons You Should Work With a Coach 15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

Trending in Communication

1 What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships 2 How To Stop Negative Thoughts from Killing Your Confidence 3 This 4-Year Old Girl’s Explanation On the Problem with New Year’s Resolutions Is Everything You Need 4 What You Really Need to Feel Secure in a Relationship 5 7 Signs You’re Ready to Change Your Life (And What to Do Next)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

Advertising

People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

Advertising

What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

Advertising

Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

Advertising

When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Read Next