Listening is one thing. Active listening is another. The former allows us to hear sounds and understand the words we hear, while the latter allows us to be in the moment, be a responsive communicator, and make full sense of the conversation.
Active listening is the practice of giving your undivided attention to someone you are conversing with and using your senses more intently to observe and take the message in to be able to give a proper response.
When you are actively listening to someone, you do not just understand the words he or she is saying, you are fostering a safe space for both of you to converse and reach a mutual understanding.
It is, practically speaking, a way to be an effective communicator, which is crucial to establish a connection with others and in the long run, to have meaningful personal and professional relationships.
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The importance of active listening at work
Being able to actively listen is a vital skill in today’s workspaces where fostering a culture of empathy is a top priority. It makes the workplace less toxic, more productive, and more conducive to learning.
For example, active listening will help managers form a bond with the team, which allows him to identify problems even before they get big. Even employees can forge stronger connections with people that will help them further their career.
In the end, active listening builds trust and inspiration among the workforce, which results in less stress, less attrition, and higher productivity. In short, active listening helps everybody get the work done in no time.
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How to master the art of active listening
Pay full attention and never interrupt. Mark Twain once said that people would have had two mouths instead of two ears if we were meant to talk more than listen. When someone is talking, do the utmost courtesy and respect of giving your full attention. Let the speaker express his or her views in full. Never interrupt a person when he or she is talking. Instead, absorb all the sense from what was said and speak only when it’s your turn. This is the start of a genuine conversation.
Be mindful of the non-verbal cues. People don’t just communicate with words, sometimes we say things with the little actions we make during a conversation. In some cultures, looking at the eyes of the person you’re talking to is a sign of being fully attentive. But in others, it feels a little awkward. Nodding your head can be a sign that you are listening attentively. There are many ways to show the other person that you are listening fully. You can also try to observe some movements, eye twitches, and hand gestures from the person you are talking to as these are hints of what he or she may be feeling about the topic.
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The quiet moments are part of the conversation. Silence during conversations can feel awkward, but you’d be surprised how normal it is. Talking non-stop may be a sign of disrespect. Quiet moments can also be a product of good communication because you’re respecting someone’s mental space and processing time. Not everyone can process information as fast as you can. Having mini quiet moments in between conversations allow you and the person you’re talking to reflect and to give back appropriate responses.
Give proper feedback and ask questions. Active listening is not just about listening. It is also having a proper exchange of feedback about the topics you are talking about. Tell the person you are talking to what you think about what he or she said and ask about his or her thoughts about that. This way, both of you remain engaged in the conversation and you will be able to reach a mutual understanding in the end, no matter what your stance are on the topic. A good conversation, with the help of active listening, will widen both of your perspectives.
Active listening will not just improve your relationships at work, it will also allow you to connect with people beyond the boundaries of the office. Mastering it will not just help you further your career, but will also help you become more empathetic and humane when you meet people from different walks of life.