What Is Active Listening? With Tips for Improvement

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 9 August 2021

Active listening is a crucial communication skill that fosters healthy interaction between employees. With active listening, your ability to process instructions, remember details and provide feedback may increase. In this article, we discuss what is active listening, list active listening skills, evaluate their importance and state tips for improving your active listening abilities.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

What is active listening?

Learning what is active listening can help you to do so mindfully. Active listening is the ability to listen intently to a speaker and commit details of their message to memory. When you listen actively, you pay close attention to what is being said in a conversation, allowing you to recall the information later with ease.

Active listening is a highly desirable skill that hiring managers watch out for when evaluating applicants. Being able to listen actively promotes better relationships, reduces conflict, bolsters productivity and improves performance. Active listening, however, goes beyond giving a speaker full attention; it's important to show interest in the conversation as well. That involves using different nonverbal and verbal cues, such as nodding, punctuating with words of assent or maintaining eye contact.

Why are active listening skills important?

Here are some benefits of developing your active listening skills:

Bolsters problem-solving ability

Active listening increases your ability to get information from colleagues and subordinates. That, in particular, makes it easier to get information on issues or problems that may affect operations and hinder performance. You can then use the information to formulate solutions to manage the situation.

Related: Soft Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

Improves productivity

Listening to your employees or team members and recognising their viewpoints is good for improving productivity levels. Individuals are likely to increase their effort when their opinions receive attention from management. In addition, active listeners provide better feedback, which inspires employees to do more.

Solves conflict

Most times, the inability to recognise alternate opinions and viewpoints causes conflicts in the workplace. When some parties feel their views are treated as unimportant, resentment grows and the likelihood of conflict increases.

However, with active listening skills, you can reduce the chances of conflicts arising in your organisation. For starters, active listening forces you to see issues from other perspectives, which solves the problem mentioned earlier. Active listening ensures that you respect others' views, even if you don't respect them. That's important for preventing arguments in the workplace.

Builds better relationships

The ability to show interest in what people say can make it easier for you to build relationships with almost anyone, especially at work. People want to feel that their views are important; by listening carefully to their message, you're likely to leave a positive impression and gain their respect and admiration.

Active listening is an important component of empathy, which is critical to building new friendships and relationships. When you listen to understand, not just respond, your empathy shows and that increases your appeal to colleagues. It also means that more people would want to build a relationship with you.

Promotes better recall

Active listening promotes your ability to recall important information, which is a skill that may come in handy at different phases of your career. Since you're focused on what the speaker says, you can grasp enough details to remember when the situation calls for it.

This skill is useful for entry-level employees who often receive plenty of verbal instructions during their onboarding. Listening actively can aid you in comprehending training processes and recalling the information when you work independently.

Develops trust

One way to get other people to trust you is to listen to what they are saying without interrupting them or making unsolicited judgments. As a result of such positive behaviour, people are more likely to share confidential information with you. This can then deepen their feelings of trust towards you.

Reduces errors

Many errors in the workplace often result from a poor comprehension of instructions. Active listening fixes this by making it easier for individuals to process instructions, extract information and recall the information before completing the task. This can then reduce the likelihood of making mistakes.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume

What are examples of active listening skills?

Here are examples of active listening skills, also called the three A's of active listening:

Attention

The difference between passive listening and active listening depends on the rate of attention you pay to the message. Active listening involves paying more attention and requires more effort on your part. Although staying attentive while listening is difficult, it improves your active listening skills. You can quickly determine the main idea of the speaker's message, grasping the major points.

To listen actively, you can focus on the speaker and ignore other distractions while you're having a discussion. That can help you take in more information and understand what the speaker is saying in greater detail.

Attitude

In active listening, attitude is the feeling that individuals ought to respect what others may be saying about an issue or topic. Having the right attitude is important because it influences our desire to listen effectively. For example, an employee with views opposed to yours may try to discuss with you. Rather than convince yourself that listening to them is a time-wasting endeavour, keep your mind open and prepare to learn from the conversation.

When you listen with a positive attitude, it becomes easier to understand what the other person is saying. That then makes it possible to consider their viewpoints in greater detail, which reduces the chances of an argument.

Adjustment

Adjustment is the ability to follow a speaker throughout a conversation. It demands keeping an open mind and being patient enough to wait for the speaker to conclude. This element is necessary for active listening, especially when the conversation becomes monotonous. In such scenarios, adjusting to changes in the information delivery aids your ability to hold on to what the speaker says. That way, you can stay in the moment and remember even the most uninteresting but important details from a conversation.

How to improve your active listening skills

Here's some practical advice for developing excellent active listening skills:

1. Smile at intervals

Smiling during a conversation conveys your interest or agreement with the speaker's message. It can also show that you're happy with the information the other party is sharing with you. You can combine smiles with other non-verbal cues, such as head nods or facial expressions, to confirm that the speaker's message is understood.

2. Maintain eye contact

Keeping eye contact is one of the classic ways of demonstrating active listening skills in conversations with colleagues. However, it would help if you only used eye contact when appropriate or it may have the wrong effect. If you're discussing with a superior, maintaining eye contact is a good way to show that you're invested in what they are saying. On the other hand, too much eye contact in conversations with shy colleagues may be particularly intimidating.

3. Monitor your posture

People can usually tell from your posture if you're interested in a conversation or not. Here are some correct postures to use in conversations:

  • Slanting your head

  • Leaning forward while sitting

  • Resting your head on your hand

4. Nod

A simple head nod can convince a colleague that you understand the meaning of their message. Nodding doesn't equal consent. It's only a non-verbal cue that shows your interest in the discussion.

5. Avoid distracting movements

When listening to someone talk, avoid movements that may suggest that you're distracted. That includes doodling during meetings, playing with your hair, fiddling with objects, glancing at the clock or checking your phone for movements. When you stay still during conversations, active listening becomes possible and you can gain more information from the speaker.

Related: How To Stay Focused When You Work from Home

6. Offer positive reinforcement

Punctuating a conversation with positive reinforcement is an excellent tactic to show you're paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Positive reinforcement also makes individuals more comfortable during conversations and encourages them to share more information.

Here are some examples of positive reinforcement phrases you can use in conversations:

  • "I understand."

  • "I see."

  • "Yes, that makes sense."

  • "Indeed."

  • "Very good."

7. Recall past information

When discussing with a colleague or acquaintance, mention a detail they shared with you in the past. That has the powerful effect of showing that you listened intently during previous conversations and can do the same for the current conversation. For example, you can recall the speaker's name or a plan they mentioned during the last discussion. This can encourage them to share more details since you've proven that you can retain the information.

8. Ask questions

Asking relevant questions while discussing with a coworker or manager conveys your understanding of the key points of their message. It may also express desire to get more clarification. It also affirms engagement, as you can't ask good questions if you don't listen properly.

9. Summarise discussion points

Nothing shows active listening than repeating what the speaker said in your own words. Summarising a speaker's message demands active listening and the ability to focus all your attention on what's being said. To use this tactic, note down the major areas covered by the speaker throughout the conversation. Then gather these major points and present them clearly and logically, before asking for clarification.

10. Be empathetic

Being empathetic is key to active listening, especially when the topic has some emotional quality. Empathy allows you to connect to a speaker's feelings and emotions. You can then build a deeper relationship with them.

Explore more articles