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How to actively listen

Active listening entails more than simply remaining silent while the other person speaks. It’s all about balancing engagement, empathy and support. Here are a few tips to help you become a better listener, make the other person feel heard and have deeper conversations with people – whether it’s in a professional or relaxed setting. 

Stay fully focused on the other person

Get rid of all distractions, whether it’s your own thoughts about other things or physical distractions like your phone. To truly listen and engage with someone, you need to be able to provide them with your full respect and attention. 

Body language speaks volumes

This goes for both the speaker and yourself. Listen to what they’re saying – not just to the words they’re using but by what their body language is telling you. It’s important that your body language communicates that you are completely receptive to them. To do this, make sure to maintain eye contact, face them directly, smile and nod at appropriate times, and keep your body relaxed. This will help the speaker to relax and feel heard.

Don’t interrupt 

This is probably the most challenging tip to master when learning how to actively listen. Sometimes when we are so engaged that it is tempting to want to jump in and speak about our own experiences. It is vital for the speaker to finish what they’re saying before you interject. It is okay to ask for clarity but for the most part, it is important to just be fully receptive and listen to what they have to say without breaking their train of thought.

Be comfortable with silence

You don’t have to fill every silent space between yourself and the speaker. Silences are sometimes really important to connect more deeply with the other person. This time allows the speaker to reflect and, for you as the listener, to process what you’ve heard and respond from a place of compassion and understanding.

Advice and validation

Choosing to give advice or validate someone’s feelings is entirely dependent on the specific conversation you’re having. If the speaker is looking for advice, coming from a non-judgemental place is key. Sometimes, however, the speaker may not be looking for a solution but may just need a sounding board to process an experience. 

If this is the case, validating statements will help them feel cared about and that their feelings are justified, such as: “I completely understand how stressful that situation must have been for you” or “I sense you’re disappointed and that’s completely understandable.”

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Written by Taryn Hill

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