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two female friends practicing active listening to each other

How to Improve Your Active Listening

The world is full of distractions. And it makes relationship communication - and communication in general - tough. While we connect online, we may be missing out on making meaningful connections in person.

Just the other day, I was out for dinner with a friend. I was recounting stories from my latest vacation. While she nodded along and seemed interested, she was also scrolling through her phone - distracted.

I quickly realized she wasn’t actually listening when I finished my story. I looked over and she was engrossed in her phone. I was met by a long pause before she lifted her head up and said, ‘Sorry, I wasn’t listening.’

Is it just me or does this happen way too often?

Active listening is defined as not just listening to what a person is saying, but also taking in the complete message that the person is trying to get across.

And any distraction means you aren’t actively listening.

Sure, I’ve been guilty of it a handful of times too. But I’ve learned. I’ll look at my phone without thinking, so I now keep it in my bag when catching up with friends. I strive to be present. And I think we all should too.

Active listening is part of that. It’s part of your personal growth and development. It’s part of being mindful. And we know mindfulness is beneficial to our mental health and overall well-being.

What Does Active Listening Really Mean?

Active listening means being engaged in the conversation.

No one wants to feel like they’re talking to a brick wall. At the very least, nod your head or say you understand. Even a few “hmm mms,” or “uh huhs,” go a long way. It’s all about acknowledging that you heard the other person.

And interestingly, it could even help in your career. Active listening can help you nail that next job. It demonstrates that you have good interpersonal skills. Employers love it.

It can further help in your own personal growth and development by helping you solve conflicts within your relationships and everyday life.

So, active listening is really a good thing.

And maybe you’re reading this thinking you could be better at it. If you’re already recognizing that, you’re off to a good start!

How Can You Improve Your Active Listening Skills?

You’ve recognized you need to make improvements - so, where do you start? We’ve got a ton of tips coming your way. The best part? You can start implementing them right now!

1. Show that you heard them.

As aforementioned, saying “hmm mm” or “uh huh” can indicate that you understand and hear the other person. Asking a question every now and then for clarification also helps. Smile when they say something funny. Keep your body language open. It shows you are engaged. It also helps you make sure you understand what is being said correctly. Plus, it encourages the person talking to keep talking.

2. Actually listen and pay attention.

Put away the distractions - like your phone. Make eye contact with the person talking. And listen to what they are saying. Don’t spend the time that they’re talking preparing to say your point next - that isn’t active listening.

3. Give feedback.

It’s all about being engaged. Ask for clarification. Give your input, such as ‘I’d feel the same way’ or ‘I get it.’’ Summarize what the other person is saying.

And try to reel in your own emotions. If this involves a conflict, put your emotions aside for a minute while you listen to the other person’s point of view.

4. Avoid judging.

Allow the other person their time to speak. Don’t cut them off with judgement or argumentative points.

5. Be respectful.

Let them finish their piece. Respond with respect. Treat them how you would want to be treated, while being honest and open. Ask open-ended question to help them develop what they’re saying.

What else should you do?

  • Paraphrase back to them once they finish their bit.
  • Wait to give your opinion.
  • Share a similar experience afterward to show that you understand.
  • Be patient.
  • Be aware of your non-verbal feedback.

The Takeaway

Essentially, you want to follow the following steps:

1. Actively pay attention and put away your distractions.

2. Work to show that you are listening.

3. Give feedback.

4. Don’t judge. Keep your judgements to yourself and don’t interrupt the other person!

5. Once the person has finished, respond with the appropriate feedback or show that you understood.

You’ve got this! Half the battle is being more aware of what you’re doing wrong - and then fixing it. Your relationships will be better for it and so will you.

And who knows what you’ll learn when you start actively listening! Maybe you didn’t know something about your best friend. Maybe you’ll learn about something that will make you better or more open-minded.

Want to learn more? Order Mark Goulston’s book Just Listen today. Leave your emotions at the door and learn to listen the right way!

Or maybe you want more balance in your relationships. Read this article to uncover how you can do just that. And if it’s a sibling relationship, click here to learn how to build those bonds up, instead of breaking them down.

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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