Listening is the most important component of interpersonal communication skills. Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that lays emphasis on what the speaker is saying. By paying close attention to both verbal and body language, Active listening is a technique that increases the understanding, rapport and trust between speaker and listener. Active listening involves listening with all senses.
Active listeners should remain neutral and non-judgmental – not taking sides or form opinions. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then paraphrases it in his own words. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker–he or she simply restates what they think the speaker said.
Levels of Listening
The book “Coactive Coaching – New Skills for Coaching People for Success in Work and Life” talks of 3 different levels of listening
Level 1 – Internal Listening
At Level I listening, the spotlight is on me, my thoughts, my feelings, my judgements. What does it mean to me – is the key aspect of Level 1 listening. The listening is through the filtered glass of how this conversation impacts me.
Level 2 – Focussed Listening
At Level II, the focus is on the speaker. You lean forward, listen with attention keeping an eye on their expressions and emotions. At Level II, the impact of awareness is on the client. The coach listens with empathy. It is almost as if there is a wired connection between the coach and the client.
Level 3 – Global Listening
When you listen at Level III, your “antenna” goes up, aware of things around you, receiving information from the environment around you. In Level III, intuition plays an important part and listening includes even those you observe with your senses including emotional sensations. “If Level II is hardwired, then Level III is like a radio field”.
Techniques required in Active listening
Here are some of the techniques for Active listening
- Pay attention – Give the speaker your undivided attention, listening not just to what the speaker says – but also his body language.
- Keep away from all distractions – such as switching off your cell phone, not looking at the watch, not fidgeting with your fingernails etc.
- Posture – Sit close to and lean towards the person who is talking, in an attentive manner
- Eye contact – Make sure to make eye contact with the speaker, never intimidating him, but in a pleasing manner, nodding your head and smiling
- Use short words / sounds (such as Yes, right, I understand, ummm) to urge the speaker to continue
- Paraphrase what the person is saying – to reconfirm your understanding
- Probing or asking powerful questions – to draw the person out and get meaningful insights, but never interrupting the conversation
- Deliberate pauses / silences – to make him think and explore their thoughts and feelings
Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. However, active listening can be difficult to master – it takes time and patience to develop. One can practise active listening by being engaged in the conversation, be “there” for the speaker paying full attention to what he/she says.