Active Listening – The Secret Ingredient to Successful Communication

Written by: Sabeeha Azmi

Do you often feel yourself nodding to a conversation but realise later that you don’t actually remember what was being said? This is because, although we utilise the skill of listening in nearly every situation, we don’t often distinguish between hearing and listening. It is quite easy to get lost during a conversation and end up losing focus and not gaining anything from it. So, how can we then improve our listening skills and through that our communication? The secret ingredient to successful communication is to use a specific skill of listening called active listening.

Listening moves beyond the simple act of hearing and encompasses an awareness of nonverbal communication, the timing and speed, context of speech, body language and tone of voice. Active listening thus involves listening through active engagement whilst simultaneously understanding and comprehending accurately the meaning of what is being heard.

This might sound hard to do but let’s see how adopting a few simple changes to the way you listen can help you become more effective in understanding and communicating in your interactions.

Active listening can be demonstrated through verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Looking at nonverbal skills, it is important to provide your full attention to the conversation and the person speaking. You can do this by focusing on being fully present in the conversation and avoiding distractions such as paying more attention to your inner dialogues, looking at your phone, or even preparing your response when listening and when the other person is still speaking. If you are unable to focus, you can simply mention to the speaker that you might not be able to provide your full attention at this moment, instead of appearing to be preoccupied which could discourage the speaker from continuing. 

Other forms of nonverbal behaviours you can adopt are head nodding, forward body lean, open body language, uncrossed arms, mirroring certain body language of the speaker, maintaining appropriate distance, and most importantly eye contact as the conversation progresses.

Verbal active listening skills include paraphrasing information that you have heard from the speaker which will demonstrate to the speaker that you are in fact listening and that you have understood what is being said. Paraphrasing also provides a great opportunity for you to ensure that you have accurately understood what was conveyed, as it allows the speaker to correct or clarify any information that you might have misunderstood.

Be forthcoming and ask open-ended questions to ensure that you aren’t making assumptions about the speaker and what they are saying. These questions can be a great tool to get more information within a question and can lead to better comprehension of what is being said. Always clarify with the speaker as to whether you have actually obtained the accurate message/information from what they were trying to convey. An important aspect of active listening is to reflect the feelings that are being communicated. Paying attention and picking up on the emotions and reflecting it back can truly make the speaker feel that they are acknowledged and heard.

Displaying active listening through the highlighted behaviours illustrates to the speaker that you are attentive and present in the conversation. It also signals awareness and encourages the speaker to express their thoughts, emotions, feelings which help to direct successful communications and improve relationships. Active listening also has the power to help the listener carry out the conversation in a more meaningful manner. It cultivates empathy, growth, support, understanding and encouragement.

With the skills portrayed in this article, we together can revive and rediscover the lost art of listening and move beyond the words to deepen our connections and truly hear what people are saying.