Eight techniques to foster active listening skills

Apr 25, 2023

Psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson coined the term “active listening” in 1957. They wrote, “active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people.” The ultimate goal of active listening is to foster positive change through empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard.

There are 3 levels of listening, according to ICF.

Level 1: The focus is on the listener; what I think, what the person’s words mean to me, my judgement about what they say and my response.

Level 2: The listener pays the undivided attention to the content of what the other person is saying, and how it is said; including the speaker’s tone of voice, body language and facial expressions.

Level 3: The listener, in addition to listening intently, also observes all that is surrounding the conversation. The listener is willing to risk hearing what isn’t said, connecting dots, noticing themes, emotions and checking out own intuition.

Listening at level 3 is what active listening is about. It is the ability and skill to focus completely on what the other person is saying and not saying, understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the speaker’s desire, hear the concerns, goals, values and beliefs, and distinguish between the words, the tone of voice and body language. In other words, active listening helps us get inside the speaker’s perspective, understand both the content of message, emotions and attitude of the speaker.

Listening vs Hearing

Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the process, function, or power of perceiving sound, while listening is defined as giving attention to a sound or action involved affective, cognitive and behavioral processes.

Hearing is an ability to receive sound through ears. You could hear many things, ie music, phone ringing, dog barking or baby crying, at one time with or without your liking. It’s passive and it may not require your understanding of them. Listening, on the other hand, is a skill to interpret the message received by ears. It’s an active process and involves more than just one sense and requires conscious efforts in the process.

Conclusion: Listening is definitely not the same as hearing!

Why is active listening important?

“A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our time in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening,” an article published by University of Missouri-Columbia in 1983. Listening, instead of speaking, is the most used communication skill.

Active listening done well can greatly impact you socially, professionally and personally. The benefits of practicing active listening allow you to:

1. Develop better connection with others

2. Build better relationships

3. Retain better and more data and information

4. Allow for better collaboration

5. Identify and solve problems

6. Avoid misunderstanding

7. Create trust

8. Become more emotionally mature

Eight techniques to foster your active listening skills

Since active listening is a skill, you can definitely learn and foster the skill on a daily basis. Below are 8 techniques to train and polish your active listening skills.

1. Be present and attentive

Being present and attentive is a key component of active listening. Being present without distraction and paying attention to both what is said and not said, along with the non-verbal cues is the first step!

2. Be open-minded and curious

Being open-minded and curious promotes speakers to talk and share more. In other words, no judgment or assumption when listening to others. If you assume what the speakers are saying or guess what their words mean, you focus on satisfying your own need which prevents you from listening actively and intently. Your own intention, without being cautious, may prompt you to prove or even argue that you are right on the topics.

3. Don’t interrupt

First of all, if you interrupt, you won’t be able to hear the whole story the other person is telling you. Second, interruption shows your disrespect toward the person you are conversing with. Either way, it’s a lose-lose scenario.

 4. Don’t plan on what you want to say

For those who always think about what to say or how to respond, you are at the Level 1 listening. It doesn’t matter if you come up with the best words or phrases possible, your focus is still on yourself. And when you do that, you will miss a lot of what the other person is trying to tell you.

5. But, respond with verbal and non-verbal cues

You want the other person to know that you are engaged and listening by, for example, smiling, making eye contact, nodding or making sounds that convey understanding, like “uh huh” and “ahh.”

6. Ask open-ended and/or probing questions

Do you get frustrated with your kids because they always give you a simple yes or no answer? If so, I bet you probably ask, “how was your day at school?” or maybe “do you have a good day today?” Why not ask “what was the most interesting event at school today?” instead? I bet you will get a few more words from them. Asking open-ended or probing questions allows speakers to elaborate which will in turn help you get more information and listen well.

7. Clarify, paraphrase and summarize

Clarifying, paraphrasing and summarizing not only help you stay on track of conversations, but also keep your assumption and judgment out of the process.

8. Practice makes perfect

Practice, practice and more practice. Be patient and consistent with your effort, and active listening can eventually become your second nature.

Mark Twain said, “if we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” Isn’t that so true! If listening is the most used communication skill, why not start incorporating some of the above techniques in your daily life? It will some take, but I know you will benefit from it tremendously in both your personal and professional life.

About Faye Weng

Your Online Life and Career Coach

Faye Weng is an expert life and career coach who works with clients to take back control of their lives by rediscovering their passions, living/working with a clear purpose, and becoming people who can positively impact the communities around them. As your life and career coach, Faye will help you minimize noises and distractions, focus your effort and attention on the right things, execute a clear plan of action, and celebrate alongside of you when each milestone is reached. Click here to book a complimentary session.