Active listening is a communication skill that involves paying close attention to what a speaker is saying, understanding their message, and responding in a way that demonstrates that you have heard and understood their words.
It goes beyond just hearing the words and involves being present in the moment, focusing on the speaker, and engaging with them both verbally and nonverbally.
Active listening is an essential skill for building strong relationships, resolving conflicts, and improving communication in both personal and professional contexts.
How active listening can change your life
I first heard about active listening in high school, but at the time it felt like just another technique for tricking people into thinking you were interested in what they had to say. I didn’t fully understand the power of truly listening to someone and actively engaging in a conversation.
Fast-forward, I found myself as a coach, working with clients to help them improve their communication and relationships. By that time I had discovered the true impact of active listening.
One of my clients was struggling with a difficult relationship, and I suggested she’d try incorporating active listening into her conversations with her husband. As she didn’t really know what it was, I presented her some of the ‘tricks’.
To my surprise, she reported back that the dynamic between them had shifted dramatically. They both felt heard and valued, and as a result, they were much more open and receptive to finding a solution together.
I was amazed at how such a simple shift in listening could have such a profound impact on the relationship. Since then, I have made active listening a cornerstone of my coaching practice, and I have seen countless clients transform their relationships and communication through this simple yet powerful tool.
Active listening is important because it helps to:
Improve relationships and build trust: By showing that you are fully engaged and interested in what the other person has to say, active listening can help to build stronger, more meaningful relationships based on trust and mutual understanding.
Enhance communication: Active listening can improve the flow of information, reduce misunderstandings, and increase clarity in communication.
Resolve conflicts: By encouraging both parties to fully understand each other’s perspectives, active listening can be an effective tool for resolving conflicts.
Increase empathy and understanding: By paying close attention to the speaker’s words and emotions, active listening can help to increase empathy and understanding of others, leading to more compassionate and respectful interactions.
Boost productivity and teamwork: In a work environment, active listening can lead to better teamwork, collaboration, and decision-making, which can result in increased productivity and success.
The 3 A's of Active listening
The “3 A’s of Active Listening” refer to three key components of active listening:
Attention: Paying close attention to the speaker and their message, focusing on what they are saying and how they are saying it.
Attitude: Approaching the conversation with a positive and non-judgmental attitude, showing empathy and respect for the speaker and their perspective.
Action: Responding to the speaker in a way that demonstrates that you have heard and understood their message. This may involve asking questions, providing feedback, or simply acknowledging what they have said.
Incorporating the three A’s into your communication style can help to improve your active listening skills, enhance your relationships, and foster more effective and meaningful interactions with others.
By combining the 3 A’s with effective nonverbal and verbal cues, we can create a strong and effective communication style that promotes active listening and strengthens relationships.
nonverbal signs of active listening
Nonverbal cues can be an important part of active listening, as they can help to show the speaker that you are engaged and interested in what they have to say. Here are some nonverbal signs of active listening:
Eye contact: Making and maintaining eye contact with the speaker is a strong indicator of attention and engagement.
Nodding: Nodding your head can show that you are following along with what the speaker is saying and that you understand their message.
Posture: Leaning forward, facing the speaker directly, and maintaining an open posture can indicate that you are interested and engaged in the conversation.
Facial expressions: Smiling, frowning, or other facial expressions can reflect your emotional response to what the speaker is saying, and can help to establish a connection.
Body language: Gestures such as holding open palms, uncrossed arms or legs, and relaxed body posture can convey interest and engagement. If you would like to know more about body language, I suggest reading Unlocking Body Language: The Secret Language of Success
Verbal signs of active listening
Here are some verbal signs of active listening:
Paraphrasing: Summarizing or rephrasing what the speaker has said to show that you understand their message and to check your understanding.
Asking questions: Asking open-ended or clarifying questions can demonstrate that you are engaged in the conversation and want to understand the speaker’s perspective.
Giving feedback: Providing positive or constructive feedback can show that you are paying attention and that you value the speaker’s perspective.
Acknowledging: Saying things like “I understand” or “That makes sense” can help to validate the speaker’s perspective and build rapport.
Reflecting emotions: Using empathetic language to reflect the speaker’s emotions, such as saying “That sounds really frustrating,” can help to build rapport and understanding.
By using verbal cues in combination with nonverbal cues, you can create a strong and effective communication style that promotes active listening and improves relationships.
Models or frameworks
There are several models and frameworks for active listening. Here are some of the most commonly used ones:
The EAR Model: This model stands for “Attend, Empathize, Respond” and is a simple framework for active listening. It involves paying attention to the speaker, trying to understand their emotions and perspectives, and then responding in a way that shows you have heard and understood what they have said.
The SOLER Model: This model stands for “Square, Open, Lean, Eye Contact, Relax” and is a set of body language techniques used to show active listening. The SOLER model encourages you to square your body towards the speaker, keep an open posture, lean towards the speaker, make eye contact, and relax your body.
The Listening Spiral: This model involves four steps: attending, understanding, evaluating, and responding. It involves paying attention to the speaker, trying to understand their message, evaluating their words and emotions, and then responding in a way that shows you have heard and understood what they have said.
The SPEAK Model: This model stands for “Situation, Problem, Effect, and Ask for Advice, Knowledge” and is a structured approach to active listening. It involves asking questions about the speaker’s situation, the problem they are facing, the effect it is having, and asking for advice or knowledge to help solve the problem.
These models and frameworks can be helpful and provide useful guidelines for practicing active listening and improving communication skills.
“Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead” by Mark Goulston: This book provides practical strategies and techniques for improving active listening skills, including how to deal with difficult people, handle emotional conversations, and become a better leader through effective listening.
“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Gore: This book explores how to handle high-stakes conversations and effectively communicate in challenging situations through active listening and other communication skills.