As humans our well-being is tied to the quality of our social connections. Social interaction provides support, reduces stress, provides emotional resources for coping, reduces loneliness, promotes learning and gives us a sense of purpose that boosts self-esteem.
One skill that can help to improve our ability to connect with others is active listening. Whether it’s talking to the barista at your local café, personal relationships, or having a conversation with a colleague at work, active listening helps you to demonstrate genuine interest that engages others.
The goal of listening is not just getting information. It’s making sure the other person feels heard. The ‘active’ in Active Listening refers to doing more than hearing the words someone says. It’s about being intentional and demonstrating you are listening by giving your full attention, and noticing what isn’t said. This makes the other person feel heard and creates a positive reciprocal interaction that forms a new or strengthens an existing connection.
Active listening is a that can support better workplace and personal relationships. For example, workplace leaders who actively listen to their team members create a psychologically safe work environment by cultivating inclusion and trust. When their workers feel safe, they can be more creative and approach challenges and problems with a solution focused mindset. In the same way, when relationship partners create space and listen to each other, it promotes healthier communication and reduces conflict that supports mutual understanding and joint problem solving.
Try actively listening in your next conversation and notice how the other person responds to you. Here are some tips to help you:
1. Take notice of how you use nonverbal communication. This is anything you are doing other than speaking. Maintaining eye contact, nodding, and using facial expressions appropriate to the conversation show that you are present and attentive. This encourages the speaker to keep talking and conveys a sense of empathy and interest in what they are saying.
2. Repeat back what you heard with different words. This is called paraphrasing or summarising, and it involves restating what you just heard using your own words to show you comprehended the message. This reinforces the speaker’s confidence in you and allows you to clarify what you have heard, reducing misunderstandings.
3. Help others expand on their thoughts. Asking open-ended questions can help you to help others elaborate on their thoughts. This demonstrates genuine interest and curiosity rather than judgement.
4. Resist the urge to think about your response while someone else is talking. Focus fully on what the speaker is saying to absorb all the information so you can provide a thoughtful and considered response.
5. Notice what isn’t being said. What is the body language or facial expressions of the other person telling you about how they are feeling? Responding to the emotions you observe can help someone to gain insight into themselves. For example, if you notice the other person fidgeting or speaking fast, they might be nervous, and you can adjust your response to help them to feel comfortable.