Why Active Listening Is So Important (and How to Learn It)
Don’t let the name fool you—soft skills are some of the most important skills you can develop. And among them, active listening is one of the best soft skills you can master. Capable of supporting you in your personal life and professional life, active listening is both powerful and versatile, and like any other skill, active listening can be learned and mastered.
But why is this soft skill so important, and what actionable steps can you take to become a better active listener yourself?
Why Active Listening Is Important
These are just some of the areas where active listening can help you:
Conversations and personal relationships.
Conversations are two-way forms of communication. Active listening makes sure the other person feels heard and understood, and gives you more material you can integrate to your own In short, it can improve your relationships, whether you’re trying to get along better with your parents or you’re trying to manage a problematic employee.
Empathy and understanding.
Active listening also helps you understand people, including their motivations, much better. It gives you more empathy, which is a powerful tool in collaboration and management, and provides you with new perspectives on the world. The more you actively listen to the people in your life, the more open and compassionate you can become.
Opportunities for feedback and openness.
People are more likely to open up when they feel they’re going to be heard without judgment. Actively listening consistently to people makes them trust you, and makes them much more likely to give you honest feedback and/or be open with you. This is vital for learning more about your environment, and achieving more mutual trust with your employees, relatives, and friends.
How to Become a Better Active Listener
Active listening is a skill you can train and improve, rather than something you either “have” or “don’t have.” Try using these strategies to become a better active listener in your own life:
Don’t interrupt or interject.
Active listening requires you to devote your full attention to the person speaking. Therefore, your first step is to limit any interruptions or interjections to the bare minimum. Give the other person as much time as they need to articulate what they’re thinking, and don’t force your way into the conversation. To show you’re listening while they’re speaking, nod your head and rely on facial expressions, rather than using “uh-huhs,” or other forms of verbal communication.
Allow more pauses in conversation.
In many conversations, pauses are just as important as the words being said. When the other person is done speaking, wait a few seconds before you respond. This gives the other person more conversational space, and gives you a chance to think through a more thorough and engaging response. Similarly, don’t feel awkward when the other person takes a minute to think about what they want to say next; these pauses lend themselves to more thoughtful conversations.
Ask thoughtful questions.
After hearing what the other person has to say, or when starting a conversation, try to ask more thoughtful questions. Notice key elements that are being presented, or key elements that are intentionally being withheld, and frame them as questions. Questions give your conversational partner more opportunities to speak up. Which makes them feel more heard and more valued. And the more thoughtful they are, the more engaged you’re going to appear in the conversation.
Acknowledge or reiterate what the other person says.
There’s an old trick to repeat or rephrase what the other person is saying, and it works for a reason. Reiterating what the other person has just said in your own words shows that you’re listening, shows that you truly understand what they’re saying, and gives the other person a chance to hear what they’re saying in other terms, from another voice. It’s a powerful tool that leads you both to become better conversational participants.
Tie each new thought to a previous thought or statement.
When the conversation naturally starts to take its course, try to tie every new thought or conversational direction to something previous. Avoid bringing up new subjects out of thin air, or introducing topical changes on a whim. It ensures the other person has ample room to say what they want to say. And, it shows you’re invested in the topic at hand.
Like with most skills, active listening will get easier with practice. The more you challenge yourself to be better at it, the more natural it’s going to seem to you. Soon, it will manifest as the way you naturally communicate, rather than being something you have to work for. When that happens, you’ll notice a substantial improvement in your communicative efficiency—and eventually, your relationships