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What's That You Say? Eight Steps to More Active Listening

In conversations, do you ever:

  • Get distracted by other people, other technology and lose focus?

  • Think about what you will say next, rather than about what the speaker is saying?

  • Give advice too soon, tell stories and suggest solutions to problems before the other person has fully explained their perspective?

  • Talk significantly more than the other person talks?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Even with the best of intentions to truly listen to others, it’s a hard skill to master. We live in a world today full of distractions at an unprecedented pace. The good news is we do have the capacity to slow down. It’s all about being self-aware of the listening habits we want to adjust.

One model to use in being self-aware is to think about the IMPACTS you are making. A large piece of active listening is feedback. By interpreting messages and generating feedback we are using and sharpening our listening skills. If we aren’t getting the information we need through our current practices, we need to generate it by being open to new ways of listening.

The following seven steps help generate feedback and clarify meaning. They can be used as building blocks to hone your active listening skills for productive exchanges.

Interpretation. To evaluate what we hear we must first interpret what has been said. This is a clarifying process where you check for understanding of the other person’s thoughts. This process happens throughout the conversation, to ensure you are clear on their intent and goals.

Mirroring. Through your own positive body language, you can express interest and concern for what another person is saying. You can reflect back what you hear through facial expressions, eye contact, hand and head movements.

Playback. If you are unsure of the message delivered, playing it back is asking the person if you clearly understood. Using phrases like “Let me make sure I understand your issue…” and repeating back thoughts helps you get it right and shows the speaker you were actively listening.

Active Questioning. Questions that go beyond a simple yes or no response can help you get at specific information relating to the topic at hand. Again, these types of questions help you get clear on the needs of the speaker.

Counseling. At times you may be asked for your advice, explanations, demonstrations to help people resolve problems or issues. If it makes sense, offer your thoughts and expertise or new actions for them to try toward solving an issue.

Timing. Timing is critical to knowing when to respond, when to remain silent, when you have said enough. Be cognizant of the amount of talking you are doing; the speaker has come to you with a desire to share information, a challenge, a success. Give them the chance to share it.

Self-Disclosure. When appropriate, you could reveal a personal behavior or experiences that may be relevant to the discussion. If you have been listening well, you’ll know if and when it’s fitting to disclose a similar situation.

I’d add one more behavior overall - withholding judgment. Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities when practicing active listening. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid arguing or selling their point right away. Give the speaker time and space to offer their thoughts. This creates respect and will help build the relationship.

The next time you are in a conversation with someone, think about the IMPACTS you are making. With self-awareness, you will be able to take a few small steps that create great connections.

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