Have you ever had a team member start a conversation, only to find yourself wondering what they just said? Or have you asked someone a question, only to wonder how you’re going to respond instead of intentionally listening to them?

If your mind has a tendency to wander, despite your best intentions, you’re not alone. Research shows our brains think a lot faster than we can talk. While the average rate of speech for most people is around 125 words per minute, our brains can process up to 800 words per minute. As a result, we’re tempted to let our thoughts drift and run through our mental grocery lists instead of really listening.

In other words, hearing is easy… but listening is hard!

However, effective active listeners have learned to manage their minds when listening and they make the conscious choice not to give in to distractions. This means they are fully present in the conversation and totally focused on what the other person is saying.

When we are truly listened to, we feel heard, understood, and valued. And we are more able to be our authentic selves. Effective active listening provides positive benefits for your team—and yourself as a leader—through:

  • Improved team collaboration
  • Building stronger relationships
  • Increased productivity
  • Enhanced creativity and innovation
  • Developing greater trust
  • Improved decision-making

Learning to be an active listener is an important skill—after all, it’s our most used communication skill, with 45% of our waking hours spent listening. And, as with all skills, we must continue to work at it to improve.

Are you ready to take your listening skills to a new level? Here are five ways:

1. Check your body language and tone.

Communication is much more than simply the words that are spoken. Your eye contact, posture, hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone convey many powerful messages, some of which may even conflict with the words you’re saying.

Being aware of your body language and tone will help improve your ability to listen and you’ll have more engaging conversations. 

2. Ask questions.

Your body language and tone help others feel heard. But the best listeners dive even deeper into the conversation by asking questions to ensure understanding, seek clarification, and see the topic in a new light.  

3. Give the speaker regular feedback.

Part of being a good and active listener is responding to the speaker. Show you’re listening by using verbal or nonverbal responses such as nodding, inserting a well-timed “uh huh” or “hmmm,” showing empathy, or making a statement that validates what the speaker is articulating.

Periodically make mental summaries as you listen to the speaker. This will help you stay attentive and remember the conversation.

If your attention is elsewhere during a conversation, you risk sending a message that the speaker and their message are unimportant, so work to stay focused on the topic at hand.

You don’t have to agree with what is being said, but it’s important that your responses aren’t defensive, overly emotional, or inappropriate.

4. Don’t interrupt.

Are you listening to understand or are you listening to respond? Refrain from suggesting solutions or from finishing someone’s sentence. Others may not think or process thoughts at the same speed you do and your patience will give them the space to finish a train of thought.

5. Summarize the conversation.

Another way to listen actively is to summarize the content of the conversation. This helps ensure both parties are on the same page. If action items or tasks are part of the conversation, summarizing provides a review to ensure appropriate follow-through. Summarizing also provides an effective stopping point to the conversation.

Listening can often be overlooked as a key leadership skill. But being a truly good listener not only helps you understand other people’s needs and motivations, it can also help you build better relationships and improve your team’s collaboration, innovation, trust, and productivity!

P.S. Visit our blog “11 Ways to Become an Insightful Listener” for more tips!

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