put on your listening ears: 5 active-listening skills to start using today

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“Hmm, what? I’m sorry, Can you repeat that? I missed it.”

We’ve all been with someone who’s not fully present in the conversation. It’s frustrating—and a little insulting. 😩

Even worse, we’ve all been that bad listener.🥺 If you’re distracted or tired, it’s easy to hurry the speaker along without giving them your full attention and energy.

Listening actively takes practice and commitment. These five expert 🤓 tips will help you become a better listener—and maybe even inspire those around you to do the same.

be fully present

To listen well, you have to be in a listening mindset. That means displaying body language 🧘 signaling that you’re present and engaged.

How you comport yourself in a conversation not only communicates to the other person that you’re fully present; it also changes how you think 🧠 and act.

“Sit close to and lean toward” the other person, the Wall Street Journal suggests in an active-listening explainer. “Be sure to make eye contact.” 👀

reflect words and emotions

When you’ve leaned in (in face-to-face and video conversations, it’s literal—and on the phone, “leaning in” is respectful silence that gives the other person space to speak), you can really tune in to and grok what’s being said. To make extra sure you get it, repeat their words back to them. 💬

The Centers for Disease Control calls this “reflecting”—as in, reflecting both words and emotions in a kind of affirmation. 🙌

When you reflect words, you communicate that you get what’s being said. When you reflect emotions, you describe what you think the other person is feeling.

Both actions convey, “I think I get what you’re going through. I want you to keep sharing to make sure I understand,” deepening your connection with the person and making them trust you enough to share more.

ask questions

Encourage the other person to keep sharing by asking thoughtful questions, instead of jumping to conclusions. Aim to clarify what’s being said, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California suggests:

“Ask questions to clarify [the person’s] meaning, such as, ‘When you say_____, do you mean_____?’”

Other listening researchers echo this point. Good listeners are seen as those who turn the conversation into a dialog 🤝, instead of a one-way street.

“People perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight,” two leadership experts write in Harvard Business Review.

maintain positivity

It’s important to keep your questions from veering into criticism. Your line of questioning should be constructive and positive.

This communicates to the speaker that you’re creating a safe space for them to open up. In addition to constructive questioning, you can sprinkle so-called “minimal encouragers” into the discussion.

These are little conversation fillers—what the WSJ describes as “short words or even sounds such as ‘yep,’ ‘right,’ or ‘mmm-hmm.’” They help pace the conversation and create a positive feedback loop 🤗 ♻️ of listening and engagement.

don’t rush to give advice

A final consideration in becoming a great listener is to hold your tongue 👅 when needed. That is, you should resist the inclination to offer advice.

Suggestions can be appropriate—but only after the other person feels listened to.

“Problem-solving is likely to be more effective after both conversation partners understand one another’s perspective and feel heard,” the CDC says. “Moving too quickly into advice-giving can be counterproductive.”

Rushing into advice makes your conversation partner feel like you’re brushing them aside. So, fight the urge to wrap up the discussion. Open yourself up to genuine conversation instead.

You’ll be a better friend, family member, coworker, or partner—and the next time you need to bend someone’s ear,👂 you can lean on that person to truly listen.

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