We, humans, are losing our listening.
Yes, you read that right. But you are not going deaf, I am sure I am not going deaf. So, what do I mean? Julian Treasure, a phenomenal speaker, and businessman, in one of his TED talks, brought to focus a very important fact, i.e., we spend 60% of the day listening but retain less than 25% of that. Why so?
The treasure was trying to shine light upon our growing in consideration for the one who is speaking to us and the unfortunate vanishing of active listening. In an age of communication, we don’t have time to listen to understand. Rather, we are caught up in listening to respond.
We have impeccable debaters amongst us and astounding public speakers, but what this world needs are Active Listeners. People who listen, understand and give importance to the words of those around them. So,
Who is an active listener?
Scientifically speaking, humans can decipher different sounds and tones but so can a few smart animals. What makes us different is that we can listen and not just hear.
“Listening is the missing half of communication” – William Ury, Harvard University
An active listener is any person who has focus and can comprehend what is being spoken to them. Philosophically, an active listener is someone who makes you feel that your words have an impact. You can test yourself to determine if you are an active listener; the next time you have a conversation, try to recollect what information was given to you once the conversation is over. If you can create a general mind map of what was spoken to you, congratulations! You have the rare skill of being an active listener (you may add that to your resume).
An active listener can understand the speech of the speaker and can go beyond the superficial meaning of words, and deeply understand the emotions and tones of the speaker as well. Such a person is also someone in whom many confide in and share their innate emotions because an active listener makes people feel wanted and important.
Is being an active listener good?
If you are looking to make a great name for yourself in life or want to be a better team leader in a college fest, active listening can help you surge forward on the path to success.
An active listener can build trust and connections with the people around them, allowing them to communicate better and delegate. Active listeners never miss critical information and can quickly identify and solve both feuds and problems.
Listening is a highly efficient method to gain knowledge and broaden your horizons. Being an active listener allows you to understand a given topic from various viewpoints and learn concepts that you weren’t aware of. For example, 85% of what we learn in our lives is purely through listening.
What are the four examples of active listening?
Let us define four examples that can help you decide whether you have been an active listener or a passive listener during your conversation.
- Paraphrasing: The best example to look for is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing doesn’t necessarily mean that you can remember a spoken conversation word by word. Rather, Paraphrasing is the ability to understand the essence of an idea and convey it in your own words. For example, let us take a short dialogue between Alec and Hazel.Alec: Hey, Hazel. How was your day?
Hazel: It went well. We studied Julius Caesar, Roman artists, and the Barbarians.
Alec: So, you had a journey through Ancient Roman history, right?
Hazel: Yeah, you could say that.
In the conversation, Alec can convey that Hazel was studying Roman history by actively listening to the topics that she listed out.
- Non-verbal cues: Certain movements like nodding, making eye contact, etc., assure the speaker that you are listening. So being an active listener means being able to deliver these non-verbal cues at the right moment. But the trick behind delivering real non-verbal cues is not to focus on them. When you actively listen to someone, you involuntarily nod your head for approval or make eye contact regularly; thus, actively listening to someone is the best way to deliver proper non-verbal cues.
- Asking questions: Now, listening to someone might seem like a task to perform with your mouth shut. On the contrary, speaking once without interrupting displays assures the speaker that you are actively a part of their conversation. Asking questions to seek clarifications like “What do you mean by this?” or “How did you tackle the situation?” shows your interest in the conversation.
- Displaying concern: Active listening is required the most when you want to empathize. The fact that your facial features display concern is also a positive side effect of active listening. An active listener can understand the emotions behind the words of the speaker and this allows them to display the proper emotions as a response.
What are the 3 A’s of active listening?
The holy trinity in the world of Active Listening is the 3A’s that serve as the fundamentals you need to perfect to be a better active listener.
By now, you might be well aware that attention is the key to active listening. If you are not paying attention to what someone is saying, you are hearing them but not listening to them, and that makes a huge difference.
Providing attention to the speaker is a distinguishing trait of the active listener. It makes the speaker valued and allows the active listener to gain trust and respect in the eyes of the speaker.
How is a listener supposed to adjust? Now that’s a question that you may be able to answer only when you have perfected the art of active listening. Adjustment in active listening refers to being able to modify your thinking process based on what your speaker is talking about. Your speaker may be telling you a science fiction story or a sad, depressing ballad but you must remain actively involved providing the speaker with the impetus to complete his story. The adjustment also means being able to change your attitude towards the speaker.
So, you were paying attention to the speaker and made adjustments to the verbal cues you were using, but you did all of that thinking what a waste of time it was to listen to the speaker. Or you thought how much better you could have delivered the speech than the speaker. Would you call yourself an active listener?
The answer is a blatant no! As an active listener, you must always foster a positive attitude towards the speaker. Sometimes it might seem an easy task, but on bad days with boring topics, such an easy task appears humongous but being able to derive inner motivation creates an awesome active listener. After all, no matter how boring the topic, there is always something to learn.
What are the 5 stages of active listening?
Stage 1: Receiving
At this stage, we are focused on the sole task of whatever is being spoken. We are trying to isolate the message of the speaker and not confuse it with any other interfering stimuli.
Stage 2: Understanding
At this stage, we try to identify the message of the speaker. We try to understand the enunciation of the words and the total messages. This stage is often the most difficult because we tend to attach our meanings to the spoken words, which may conflict with the meaning the speaker wants to convey.
Stage 3: Remembering
This stage is a direct result of the previous two stages. If you don’t listen carefully then you won’t be able to remember the message and if you don’t understand the message, then you won’t be able to remember the message. So, to get past this stage you must be listening carefully and understand the dialect and the spoken words.
Stage 4: Evaluating
Based on the mental biases that we possess, a perception of the message is built in our mind, and this is the reason some messages seem positive to us, and some seem negative to us. Evaluating the message requires a level of tenacity, and an active listener will be able to look beyond words and understand the bigger picture and the hidden emotions.
Stage 5: Feedback
Providing feedback that is valuable and assures the speaker that they are being heard and puts in them a sense of confidence in the speaker. Providing valuable feedback is also a distinguishing trait of an active listener, and this is one area where you should focus on improving yourself as an active listener.
What are the 6 active listening skills?
Active listening is probably the least time-intensive method of increasing your stature and respect in society. Six major skills require mastery before someone can achieve the title of an active listener but don’t worry, you won’t have to take up any additional skill course to master them.
- Paying attention: – To what the speaker is saying.
- Withholding judgment: – Unless asked to share, keep your opinions to yourself.
- Reflecting: – Ponder upon what is being spoken to you and respond appropriately.
- Clarifying: – Ask for clarifications and do not attach your meanings to words.
- Summarizing: – Listen and understand so that you can summarize the words spoken if the need arises.
- Sharing: – Share according to the speaker’s wish and avoid oversharing.
Top 6 ways to become an active listener
Let’s summarize our endeavours here and discuss the top six ways that will help you become an active listener and someone people trust and confide in.
1. Quiet your agenda
The best place to start your journey to being an active listener is to silence your mouth. While listening to someone, you should avoid thinking about any personal notions that are irrelevant to the topic of the conversation.
2. Talk/listen ratio
While you may choose to remain silent at certain moments in the conversation, make sure you balance it out with equal amounts of time speaking. This gives an impression that you want to listen as well as present your viewpoints and makes the speaker feel validated.
3. Let them talk before speaking yourself
Most conversational situations require input from both sides but often this input comes out in the form of a tangled and confusing conversation. When talking to someone, let them talk and present their views first and listen actively (that’s the entire message of this article).
4. Question them!
Active listening requires the listener to ask questions to the speaker so that the meaning of their words is appropriate and comprehendible. This doesn’t mean that you should interrogate them (unless you are a police officer handling a criminal) rather jump into the gaps between their speech and ask a couple of questions. This shows them that you were listening and paying attention to what they were saying.
5. Repeat their words
There is a feeling of pride and validation when your words are repeated by someone. Thus, while actively listening to someone, make sure you note two or three prominent words or phrases from their speech and try to incorporate them into your response. This proves to the speaker that you were actively listening to them.
6. Listening is to learn (not just to be polite)
Yes, listening to someone is a polite act but don’t just listen to respond or be polite; listen to learn. You went through a conversation with someone and didn’t learn a new thing raises a very important question, did you actively listen to the speaker? Thus, learning is a very important aspect of active listening and one that can never be ignored.
Listening is something that we are involved in for most of our day. Being able to listen to someone actively allows you to learn, grow and gain respect.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
There is a lot of emphasis on being a perfect public speaker, but to be successful, it is imperative to focus on the other half of communication, and that is being a patient, active listener. Active Listening is a skill set that can only be mastered by patient and empathetic individuals. The world has a lot of phenomenal speakers, but it is an active listener who holds the key to changing the world.
Power Words :
Critical thinking challenge question :
Should you watch your favourite web series while you are listening to an educational podcast? Justify your answer.
Next time when you go to a speaking event or listen to a podcast, create a checklist of the five stages of listening skills. Mark if you have followed each stage of active listening or not.
Watch this video for further learning :
How to develop Active Listening Skills
Are you ready for the quiz?