We all have a hunger to be truly listened to. We want to be understood and valued for what we have to say and share. And this holds true in both our professional workplaces as well as our personal lives and relationships.
The conversation is a fundamental aspect of our lives, which means that listening is also fundamental! And yet, it’s a lost skill for most of us. We can all become better active listener through two simple—though not always easy—steps:
- Evaluate and remove barriers that impede our listening.
- Practice behaviors and techniques to become a better active listener.
Common Listening Barriers
There are certain things that just destroy our ability to listen. We’re all guilty of doing them, though most will tend towards one or two. Take some time to evaluate these barriers and see which ones you can identify in your own life. Once you’ve identified them, you can work to remove them from your conversations.
Here are some common listening barriers that prevent us from actively listening:
- Mind reading: Of course, not actual mind-reading, but this refers to when you are listening and get in your head about what you think the person will say or do next. When you start predicting the future, you’ve cut yourself off from listening
- Rehearsing: At some point in the conversation, you might start rehearsing in your head what you want to say next. Whenever this happens, you’re no longer listening to what the person is saying.
- Filtering: This happens when you go into the conversation focusing on a specific point or piece of information. You might be so fixated on that point that you filter out the other contextual information and miss something the other person is saying.
- Judging: We all tend to do this as humans! It’s easy to get into the judging mindset when you’re thinking about what the person did wrong, or how you could have done something better. And when you’re in the place of judging, you’re no longer listening with curiosity.
- Daydreaming: It can be hard to focus on a conversation, especially if you’re tired or have other things on your mind. But daydreaming takes your focus off the conversation!
- Advising: Prematurely jumping in with advice about what you’d do signals that you’re no longer listening.
- Comparing and identifying: This is when you’re trying to relate to someone, but it overshadows their point. Instead of listening to understand, you’re kind of “one-upping” them by bringing in your own experiences.
Which of these, if any, do you identify with? Once you know your common listening barriers, you can be more aware of them in conversation. This is the first step toward becoming an active listener.
Techniques for Active Listening
Once listening barriers are removed, you can start implementing active listening techniques. Here are some to practice in your next conversations:
Everyone hates this! So don’t do it to other people. Let them finish their thought and then begin to dialogue with them
Try to repeat back what they’re saying and add emotion to that, such as, “It sounds like that made you really upset.”
This is not about agreeing with them but acknowledging the emotions they are feeling. It can sound like, “Wow, this really made you angry—that must be difficult.”
Take off your coat of judgment and put on your coat of curiosity!
We like to judge a lot as humans. One way to get out of this is to be curious about where they’re coming from and try to understand it better.
This comes out of curiosity and helps continue the conversation. It’s a great leadership quality, as well! It signals that you are truly engaged and truly listening enough to have questions about it.
Let your listening be matched with your non-verbals.
A connection looks like eye contact or leaning towards them in conversation. Non-verbal cues can be just as important as what we say to show we are listening.
Active listening has the power to change the world! Why? Because it can transform your workplace and relationships for the better. If you are aware of your own listening barriers, you can remove them. Then, implement these techniques to become a better active listener today.