Active listening is one of the most critical skills in the communication process. It is a conscious effort made by an individual to not only hear the words, but understand the complete message being sent. Active listening involves listening with all senses. There is a generic list of non-verbal signs that contribute to active listening; however it may not be suitable in all situations or cultures. The interest of any message can be conveyed to the speaker by following verbal or non-verbal messages such as nodding head, smiling, maintaining eye contact, agreeing or making disagreements while letting the speaker continue. Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills (Jones, Bodie & Hughes 2016).
Strategies to Become an Effective Listener
A few active listening techniques can help an individual become a more effective active listener. Firstly, the speaker must be given undivided attention and acknowledge the message. The listener must maintain a continuous eye contact with the speaker. The distractive thoughts must be kept aside. The listener must not prepare for a rebuttal in his mind while the speaker is still talking (Weger et al. 2014). The listener must try not to get distracted to the environmental factors such as side conversations. The body language of the speaker shall also be noted. Secondly, the listener must give signs to show that the individual is listening. A few gestures would grab the attention of the speaker such as nodding occasionally, smiling or using other facial expressions. The listener must ensure that the postures are open and inviting to the speaker. The listener must encourage the speaker using small verbal comments such as uh huh and yes (Bodie et al. 2015).
Thirdly, the listener must provide feedback. Since communication is a two-way process, feedback must be provided so that the process is complete. The personal filters, beliefs and judgments can distort the active listening process. As a listener, the role is to understand to what is being said. Feedback is a sign of positive reinforcement and strong signal of attentiveness. The words of encouragement of feedback must not distract the speaker and must be beneficial for him (Brandler & Roman 2012). However, the listener must take care that he defers his judgment. Interruption is a waste of time. If the listener interrupts before the speaker finishes his sentence, it may lead to frustration. The listener must not interrupt with counter arguments as it would limit the full understanding of the message. Lastly, active listening must increase understanding because of the gain in knowledge and perspective. One must be open, honest and candid in their response. The opinions must be presented or asserted with due respect. The other person must always be treated in a manner the individual himself wants to be treated (Weger et al. 2014).
Benefits of Active Listening
Active listening benefits staff member as it helps in better understanding and considerations. The staff members or employees get to increase their knowledge base, enhance their skills and be more competent in the organization. More the staff member gets information out of the meetings, more successful he shall be in accomplishing his tasks. Active listening also helps in reducing misunderstanding. For example, if a staff member knows that he is not being heard by the superiors, it shall produce resentment and motivate them to look for other opportunities (Brandler & Roman 2012).
Listening is essential to build trust. For example, if an employee in a team does not listen to instructions attentively, it may lead to the failure of entire project. The reputation of an organization is also dependent on the active listening skills. For example, if an incorrect product is delivered to the customer, it may tarnish company’s image. Active listening also helps in building leadership skills. For example, an employee who is hired newly is difficult to judge for what is troubling them. Inactive listening may change the demeanour and the employee may not be enthusiastic regarding his work. The employees want more of listening to them and it can help the superiors in building leadership skills through compassion. Those who do listen to their employees are in a much better position to lead the increasingly diverse and multigenerational workforce (Llopis 2013).
Bodie, G., Vickery, A., Cannava, K. & Jones, S., 2015. The Role of “Active Listening” in Informal Helping Conversations: Impact on Perceptions of Listener Helpfulness, Sensitivity, and Supportiveness and Discloser Emotional Improvement. Western Journal of Communication, 79(2), pp.151-173.
Brandler, S. & Roman, C., 2012. Group work: Skills and strategies for effective interventions. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Jones, S., Bodie, G. & Hughes, S., 2016. The Impact of Mindfulness on Empathy, Active Listening, and Perceived Provisions of Emotional Support. Communication Research.
Llopis, G., 2013. 6 Ways Effective Listening Can Make You A Better Leader.
Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. & Robinson, M., 2014. The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions.