5 easy ways to be a better active listener

When you take the time to listen to others and care about what they have to say, not only will your relationships grow stronger, but you will also learn something new that could be of value in your life.

What is active listening?

Active listening means being present and engaged with another person. It involves paying attention to what they are saying, asking them clarifying questions if needed and reflecting back on what you hear. This helps people feel heard, understood, and respected. This skill is often overlooked in our fast-paced society, yet it is one of the most important skills we can develop. The best way to practice active listening is to ask yourself “What am I hearing right now?” before reacting.

Benefits of active listening

Active listening helps you understand what other people are saying. It also helps you understand yourself better. You learn how to listen to others without interrupting them or getting distracted by your own thoughts.

The benefits of active listening include:

  • Builds trust and relationships.
  • Helps you to avoid and resolve conflict.
  • Prevents you from missing important information.
  • Helps you to identify and anticipate problems before they arise.


How to be a better active listener

1. Make eye contact
When you make eye contact with someone during a conversation, it shows that they are the only person in your world for now. Looking at them while speaking makes for an engaging conversation and removes any doubts about where your attention resides. A few things to bear in mind about eye contact: not everyone is comfortable with gazing directly at someone or being looked at. Some people may be shy or uncertain, others may be on the autistic spectrum, or there may be cultural aspects to consider. This is ok so long as you remained focused in a relaxed and gentle way on the other person.


2. Be patient
Judging and jumping to conclusions compromises your ability to communicate effectively. The only way you can connect with what that person is saying is by opening yourself up to their point-of-view. Show empathy and patience when listening by allowing the person to speak at their own pace. Don’t interrupt them, give solutions before being asked for your opinion or try rushing through as if you don’t have time. Wait to be asked for your opinion, and if you really can’t wait to give it, take some time to check with the other person if they would like to hear it.


3. Put yourself in their position
Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes, aiming to understand what it feels like for them and using that knowledge to guide you. Empathy is the core skill of a good listener, and although it takes effort and focus, it is what good communication thrives on. Here’s a thought that sums it up from American research professor, lecturer, and author Brené Brown: “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.”


4. Reflect on what’s been said
Little gestures are important in showing that you’re listening to what the person is saying. They can include nods, words of affirmation like “I see,” or “Yes,” even responding with an “uh-huh” every now and then. Reflection can be a powerful tool for validating the other person’s feelings and understanding. This doesn’t mean repeating what they say verbatim, but rather showing that at certain points in the conversation you understand where this person is coming from. You can do this by using similar language or paraphrasing what they’ve said. For example, if someone tells you “I’m so fed up with my friend, every time she calls, she starts off by saying she just wants to see how I am, but then she always ends up asking me to do something for her”. You might respond by saying, “It sounds like you’re feeling used by your friend” – not exactly the words said to you, but it captures the essence of their meaning.


5. Check your understanding
Listening is an art that takes patience, skill and practice to master. One of the most important skills in being a good listener is asking meaningful questions. Try not to interrupt. Wait for a pause, and ask the speaker something like: “Can we go back to what you said a bit earlier? I want to make sure I understand…”.


In a nutshell

Relationships are hard to maintain these days. Between work, family commitments and social media, it can be difficult to find time for others in your life. But when you do, take the time out of your busy schedule to listen to what they’ve been going through. It’s always good to get outside our own heads once in a while too. If any of this resonates with you, speak with one of our team members at Validium about how best to utilise these tips.


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