8 Facts About Active Listening That Will Impress Your Teachers and Friends

In today’s high-speed, high-pressure world, communication is much more critical compared to the past, however we tend to decrease the amount of time we spend truly listening to one another. Actually listening is a rare gift that favours our social relationships and problem-solving abilities. Effective listening in school means fewer mistakes.

Whether you’re trying to communicate with your friends, family, or teachers, active comprehension is key. Active Listening is the ability to understand spoken language. This process involves both hearing and understanding the message that someone is communicating.

Good listening skills are important in order to be successful in many different situations. For example, when you’re having a conversation with someone, you need to be able to understand what they’re saying in order to respond appropriately.

Active Listening is one of the most important skills that you can possess in your lifetime. The ability to listen and understand what others are saying is crucial in both personal, school and professional settings.

Here are 8 facts about active listening that will impress your teachers and friends.

1. Interact with the speaker and maintain eye contact

When one’s talking to someone while they scan the room, study a computer screen, or gaze out the window, it’s like hitting a moving target. How much of the conversation are you capturing? Fifty percent? Five percent? If you were speaking along a road with your friend, you probably wouldn’t say, “Look at me if I’m talking to you.”

Eye contact is considered an important building block in most Western communication styles. When we speak, we consistently look each other in the eye. This is something that doesn’t mean you can’t commence a conversation from your home or from another room, but if you continue speaking for any length of time, you will go out and make a move.

Practice the courtesy of displaying attention toward your conversational partners by turning to face them and putting them aside. Put down books, papers, and the phone.

Look only at your fellow speakers, even if they don’t look directly at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, in addition to sociocultural taboos, can hold people back from directly engaging with others in certain contexts. Apologise to the other person while you focus on yourself.

2. Relax but pay attention and listen to non-verbal cues in addition to what is said

Now that you’ve made eye contact, relax. You’re allowed to look away from time to time and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be focused. 

Focus your mind on avoiding distractions, such as background noise and a speaker’s particular accent or mannerisms. Then, refrain from accumulating too much attention on the thoughts of the person speaking. Do not allow your own feelings and biases to limit what you listen to.

A majority of verbal communication is non-verbal. We get a lot of information about each other through body language without seeing each other’s body language.

With a person, you can quickly assess the mood from the appearance of one’s eyes, a set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. All of these clues are quite helpful. To avoid misunderstanding, be sure to focus when listening.

2. Be open-minded

Avoid judging or criticising exactly what the other person states to you. She will tell you things if you don’t feel alarmed about them, but do not say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.”

Be mindful and don’t jump to conclusions during a discussion. Remember that the speaker uses language to represent mental processes and emotions. You may never know what the speaker’s thought processes and emotions are, the only way to learn about them is by listening.

4. Associate the words of the speaker with your mental imagery

Allow your mind to create a mental model of anything being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract ideas, your mind will do the needed work if you stay focused, with senses fully tuned in. When listening for long stretches, think of, and remember, the words and phrases.

Listen to what’s being said, regardless of whether it’s in your place or no one’s. Do not spend time thinking about how to salvage your act. Concentrate only on what the other person is trying to say. When your thoughts pursue something, turn your attention to what is being said.

5. Do not interrupt and do not impose your solutions

While children are taught that it’s impolite to interrupt, I believe that this guidance is getting lost. Broadly speaking, this is similar to the message that is delivered by most media programs and talk shows, where loud, abrasive, in-your-face behaviour is tolerated, if not required.

Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says,

“I’m more important than you are.”

“What I have to say is more interesting, accurate, or relevant.”

“I don’t really care what you think.”

“I have no time for your opinions.”

“This isn’t a conversation, it’s a contest, and I’m going to win.”

We all have a varied rate of thought and speech, and the person who speaks slower bears the responsibility to bring the discussion to a slower rhythm, while the fast speaker needs to quicken the pace to fit the thought.

While listening to someone talk about an issue, refrain from offering advice. Most individuals don’t value your opinion anyway. If they do, they can ask for it. Most of us prefer to devise our own solutions. We need you to listen to and help us do that. At some point down the road, if you are absolutely not robbed of a brilliant idea, at least get a speaker’s permission. Ask, “Would it be okay if I offered you my thoughts?”

6. Wait until the speaker pauses to ask clarifying questions

If you don’t understand something, of course you should wait for the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Let me back up a second. I did not understand what you just mentioned about “

7. Ask questions to ensure that you’re understanding

At lunch, a friend is excited to recount her trip to England and all the details she saw. In the course of this anecdote, she mentions that she has heard from a friend in recent weeks. You respond at once, “Oh, I haven’t heard from Alice in years. How is she doing?” and so you suddenly discuss Alice and her family, which shifts the focus to what she has been doing.

Sometimes this conversational affront happens. Our questions and their corresponding relationships lead people into directions that are not in line with where they had hoped to go. Sometimes we work our way back to our intended topic, but very often we do not. When a speaker notices that they have not continued with the dialogue in the way they intended, they take responsibility for bringing the discussion back on track by using the phrase, “Let’s stop talking about that.”

8. Get into the mindset of the one speaking

If you see sadness or joy in the person with whom you’re talking, express those feelings with your own expressions and words. Good listening relies on empathy.

To be able to experience empathy, you have to put yourself in another person’s position and allow yourself to feel the emotions they experience. This is difficult to do, as it demands energy and patience. But it is a significant and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like no other activity does.

This article is written by Carean Oh who is a PESA Competition Trainer since 2006. She holds public speaking classes in Writers Studio School of English in collaboration with Speech Concept enrichment centre. 
She has also been an integral sponsor of WAH (We Are Hear) Social Project to promote Active Listening in Singapore.

- Carean Oh

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