43+ Tips For Effective Active Listening

43+ Tips For Effective Active Listening

Listening is a willful act, so improving your listening ability is largely a matter of mental conditioning; you must want to improve. Joseph N. Capella (1987:216-17), an American psychologist, has identified the following verbal and nonverbal skills of effective listening.

Invite Additional Comments

Suggest that the talker add more details or provide additional information. Phrases such as “go on,” “what else?” “How did you feel about that?” and “Did anything else occur?” encourage the speaker to continue sharing ideas and information.

Ask Questions

Inquire about points of interest. Questions like “Why did it happen?” or “What are its consequences?” can lead to more clarification.

Identify Areas of Agreement or Common Experience

Briefly relate similar past experiences or explain a similar point of view that you hold. Sharing ideas, attitudes, values, and beliefs forms the basis of communication. Additionally, such comments demonstrate your understanding.

Vary Verbal Responses

Use a variety of responses such as “Yes,” “I see,” “Go on,” and “Right,” instead of relying on one standard, unchanging response like “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes.”

Provide Clear Verbal Responses

Use specific and concrete words and phrases in your feedback to the speaker. Misunderstandings can occur if you do not provide easily understood responses.

Use Descriptive, Non-evaluative Responses

It is better to say, “Your car has a broken headlight, a burned-out taillight, and a dented fender” (descriptive) than to say, “That car of yours sure is a pile of junk” (evaluative). Similarly, derogatory remarks are seen as offensive.

Provide Affirmative and Affirming Statements

Comments such as “Yes,” “I see,” “I understand,” and “I know” provide affirmation. Offering praise and specific positive statements demonstrate concern.

Avoid Complete Silence

The absence of any response suggests that you are not listening to the speaker. The “silent treatment” induced by sleepiness or lack of concern may result in defensiveness or anger on the part of the talker. Appropriate verbal feedback demonstrates your active listening.

Allow the Other Person the Opportunity of a Complete Hearing

Allow the other person to delve into depth and detail; allow the other person the option of changing the topic under discussion; allow the other person to talk without interruption.

Restate the Content of the Speaker’s Message

Use repetition of key words, phrases, and ideas to demonstrate your understanding of the conversation. Such restatements should be brief.

Paraphrase the Content of the Speaker’s Message

Restate the speaker’s message in your words to confirm your understanding of the content of the message.

Paraphrase the Intent of the Speaker’s Message

Demonstrate your understanding of the talker’s intention by attempting to state it concisely in your own words.

Demonstrate Bodily Responsiveness

Use movement and gestures to show your awareness of the talker’s message.

Shaking your head in disbelief, checking the measurements of an object by indicating the size with your hands, and moving toward a person who is disclosing negative information demonstrate appropriate bodily responsiveness.

Lean Forward

By leaning toward the talker, a good listener demonstrates interest in the speaker. A forward lean suggests responsiveness as well as listening to the talker.

Use Direct Body Orientation

Do not angle yourself away from the speaker; instead, sit or stand so you are directly facing him or her. A parallel body position allows the greatest possibility for observing and listening to the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages.

Use Relaxed, But Alert Posture

Your posture should not be tense or “proper,” but neither should it be so relaxed that you appear to be resting.

Slouching suggests unresponsiveness; a tense body position suggests nervousness or discomfort; and a relaxed position accompanied by crossed arms and legs, a backward lean in a chair, and a confident facial expression suggests arrogance. Thus, your posture suggests your interest to the talker.

Establish an Open Body Position

Sit or stand with your body open to the other person. Crossing your arms or legs may be more comfortable for you because of habit, but it frequently suggests that you are closed off psychologically, as well as physically.

To maximize your nonverbal message to the other person that you are open to him or her, you will want to sit or stand without crossing your arms or legs.

Use Positive, Responsive Facial Expression and Head Movement

Your face and head will be the speaker’s primary focus. The speaker will be observing you, and your facial expression and head movement will be key.

Demonstrate your concern by nodding your head to show interest or agreement. Use positive and responsive facial expressions, such as smiling and raising your eyebrows.

Establish Direct Eye Contact

The talker will be watching your eyes for interest. One of the first signs of a lack of interest is the listener’s tendency to be distracted by other stimuli in the environment. Try to focus on and direct your gaze at the speaker.

Sit or Stand Close to the Speaker

Establishing close proximity to the speaker has two benefits.

First, you put yourself in a position that allows you to hear the other person and minimizes distracting noises, sights, and other stimuli.

Second, you demonstrate your concern or your positive feelings for the speaker. Close physical proximity allows active listening to occur.

Use Vocal Responsiveness

Change your pitch, rate, inflection, and volume as you respond to the speaker. Making appropriate changes and choices shows that you are actually listening, in contrast to responding in a standard, patterned manner that suggests you are only appearing to listen.

Provide Supportive Utterances

Sometimes you can demonstrate more concern through nonverbal sounds such as “Mmm,” “Mmm-hmm,” and “uh huh” than you can by stating, “Yes, I understand.”

You can easily provide supportive utterances while other persons are talking or when they pause. You are suggesting to them that you are listening. Such sounds encourage the speaker to continue without interruption.

Stop Talking

You cannot listen if you are talking. Most of us prefer talking to listening. Even when we are not talking, we are inclined to concentrate on what to say next rather than on listening to what is being said. So, you must stop talking before you can listen.

Thus, Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.” Just remain silent. Don’t talk because all other guidelines depend on it. So, stop talking.

People say that God had given two ears and one tongue, which is a gentle hint that you should listen more than talking. Moreover, listening requires two ears, one for meaning and one for feeling.

Put the Talker at Ease

Help the person to feel free to talk. This is often called a permissive environment. If you make the talker feel at ease, he or she will do a better job of talking. You will get better input with which you can make better decisions.

Listening is a willful act, so improving your listening ability is largely a matter of mental conditioning; you must want to improve.

Experts like Nisbet (1988), Pearson and Nelson (1997:64-68), and the “10 Commandments of Listening,” etc., have prescribed some guidelines for effective listening. They are mentioned with a brief elaboration:

Show the Talker You Want to Listen

Look and act interested. Do not read your mail, answer the telephone, etc., while someone talks. It will distract the talker. Listen to understand rather than to oppose.

Remove Distractions

Do not doodle, tap with your pencil or pen, or shuffle papers. Close the door if it ensures quietness.

Empathize with Talkers

Try to understand the talker’s view from their point of view. So, place yourself in the talker’s position and look at their view. It will create a climate of understanding.

Be Patient

Allow plenty of time for the talker. Do not interrupt them. It will create barriers to information exchange.

Hold Your Temper

Anger creates noise in the way of communication. An angry person may take the wrong meaning from words. Angry people build walls among themselves. They harden their positions and block their minds to others’ words.

Go Easy on Arguments and Criticism

Arguments and criticism tend to put the talker on the defensive. They may “clam up” or become angry. So, do not argue. Even if you win the argument, you lose. Rarely does either party benefit from such controversy.

Ask Questions

Asking questions will encourage a talker and show that you are listening. It helps to develop points further. So, you should display an open mind. You can help develop the message and ensure the correctness of meaning.

Take Time

If you don’t have time to listen, it is better to state this rather than half-listen or rush the speaker.

Be Prepared to Learn

Don’t listen with set ideas or with an unwillingness to change. Be open to other options.

Don’t Pretend

Don’t go through the motions of pseudo-listening. Prepare to listen in full and listen with care and attention.

Resist distractions and make an effort to listen

Listening requires attention to what the speaker wants to convey. So, listeners have to try to resist distractions by all possible means and give proper effort to listening.

Maintain eye contact with the speaker

Maintaining eye contact with the speaker will help concentrate attention on what he or she is saying. This will also help resist distractions.

Find areas of interest

Listeners are not supposed to follow and remember every aspect of the speaker’s message. It is better to concentrate on the areas of interest and evaluate them properly.

Judge content, not delivery

Usually, the content is more important than the delivery. If the content is acceptable and worthwhile, the style of delivery does not matter.

Listen for ideas

Each speaker should have an idea or ideas to put before the audience. Listeners should pick up the important ones among them.

Be flexible and keep your mind open

Rigidity on the part of listeners would make communication unsuccessful. Effective listening, therefore, requires that listeners remain flexible and keep their minds open.

Control your emotions

Communication becomes ineffective if either the speaker or the receiver fails to control emotions.

React responsively with head nods or spoken signals

Head nods or spoken signals like “go on” or “yes” will confirm the continuing attention of the audience.

Pay attention to body language and facial expression

Body language and facial expressions are to be followed to have a clear idea about the feelings, attitudes, opinions, etc., of the speaker. Words alone may have different meanings when accompanied by body language and facial expressions.

Be receptive to both information and feelings

While listening to what the speaker is saying, listeners should receive not only the facts (information) but also the feelings of the speaker. For example, if the employer is speaking about the financial crisis of the company, the employees, as listeners, should understand the feelings of the employer as well.