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What It Really Means to Be an Active Listener


Ever had someone cut you off mid-thought because they just couldn’t hold their comments back? It seems to happen to me all the time – and even more so recently. The art of active listening seems to have gone away.

From my experience, being an active listener generally comes down to three traits in the eyes of most. You need to not talk when someone else is speaking, be conscious of your body language, and be able to summarize what has been said to you.

That might make it seem like you’re listening to the other person… but did you really hear what they had to say? Your Management 101 class would say that you did. I’m thinking that something may have been missed in translation. Here’s why.

#1. Active listening means more than encouraging silence.

When you’re listening to someone speak, there will be times when something might come up that is factually wrong. Or someone might need a moment to think about what it is they actually want to say. These moments deserve more than mere silence. I believe that in order to be an active listener, we must ask meaningful questions to challenge false assumptions or to break up moments of silence.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I appreciate a daytime sky that’s blue with a yellow sun.”

#2. Active listening also means respecting the opinion of others.

I’ve found that the best active listeners look for ways to build up a person’s self-esteem. They seek out moments of confidence and then look to build upon them. This creates a safe environment for even more conversation to be had.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I like the fact that the stars twinkle yellow in the dark night sky.”

#3. Active listening involves cooperation.

There must be a certain level of back-and-forth within the dialogue of a conversation in order for it to be meaningful. Have you ever noticed how much more rewarding a conversation happens to be when you know that you don’t have to be defensive about what you want to say? So many conversations today are competitive in nature. The goal in active listening isn’t to prove that your opinions are superior to theirs.

It’s to create a give and take so that it feels like you’re trying to help. I’ve found that trying to win an argument is pointless. Trying to listen for cooperative moments where mutual learning can happen? That’s when a conversation becomes rewarding.

#4. Active listening offers suggestions.

I like to call this the “plan of action” stage for active listening.

This is where you can give the other person in the conversation some feedback. Most people tend to talk when they need to vent their frustrations about something. Once they have finished discussing the problem and there’s a moment of silence, that’s your cue to know that they’re potentially receptive to a suggestion.

So suggest something. As an added bonus, if your suggestion calls for a specific action to be taken, then make the time to practice that action in some way.

Active listening isn’t a race. It is a moment for you to get to know someone else in a deeper, meaningful way if you create the structure which allows it. By following these steps, it becomes much easier to make that happen.

How do you apply active listening skills to your conversations?

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