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Unlock Better Discourse With Active Listening

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| March 22, 2022

How active listening can help broaden your perspective and support productive discourse.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to reap the benefits of civil discourse, you should focus on listening to others rather than worrying about what to say.

Active listening is the key to broadening your worldview, understanding different perspectives, supporting critical thinking and breaking down the media echo chamber.

Let’s look at what active listening is, what it looks like and how to develop this essential soft skill.

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Active Listening: Definition

We listen to others all the time. So what is active listening, and what makes it different?

Active listening is the act of making a conscious effort to understand what the other party says, retain the information communicated and formulate a thoughtful response.

Effective listening goes beyond hearing the words. You must analyze the content of the conversation to grasp the speaker’s intent, emotions and complete message.

Besides absorbing the information, you need to let the other person know that you’re paying attention through verbal and nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, acknowledgment and insightful comments.

Active listening also involves responding appropriately, for example, by incorporating what you have learned during the conversation into the rest of the discussion. 

The Importance of Active Listening

Active listening is a critical component of verbal communication. It helps you improve your collaboration and negotiation skills, avoid misunderstandings and foster better relationships.

You can become more effective at building trust, resolving conflicts, identifying or anticipating problems, gaining knowledge and addressing all relevant information when making decisions.

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What Does Active Listening Look Like?

Here are some active listening examples:

  • Paraphrase: Repeat what the other person said in your own words to confirm that you understand the underlying message. You may say, “If I understand correctly, you’re saying that…”
  • Ask questions: Pose insightful questions to show that you understand the information and want to learn more about the topic.
  • Compare or share: Use examples from your own experience to illustrate the speaker’s point. You can demonstrate that you grasp the message by applying the concept to other circumstances.
  • Make eye contact: This nonverbal cue shows that you’re engaged in the conversation and paying attention to the speaker.
  • Use body language: Leaning toward the speaker, nodding or tilting your head, shrugging, frowning, smiling and more can help you show that you’re fully present in the conversation.
  • Summarize the conversation: Reiterate the key takeaways of the discussion to confirm that you’re on the same page. You may also restate the next steps, if applicable, to make sure you’re working toward the same goals.

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How to Develop Active Listening Skills

Here are some essential active listening techniques to help improve your communication skills:

Pay Attention

Paying attention is more than listening when someone is talking. It also means you’re allowing “wait time” so the other person can consider their position and formulate a response. Don’t cut them off, finish their sentences or start sharing your opinions prematurely. 

Withhold Judgment

An open mind is essential to active listening. Be receptive to new ideas, alternative perspectives and different possibilities—even if you have strong opinions about the issue at hand. Hold off criticisms and refrain from interrupting the speaker.

Reflect on What You Heard

Don’t assume that you understand the speaker completely, including the information they share and their emotional state. Mirror what you heard back to the speaker to show that you grasp the key points and their feelings so they know they’re being heard.

Ask Clarification Questions

Asking questions doesn’t mean you aren’t listening. In fact, posing insightful questions to clarify anything ambiguous is a critical active listening skill. You can use open-ended and probing questions to invite the other party to delve deeper into the topic.

Don’t Get Emotional

If you feel upset about what’s said, ask for clarification. Keeping a level head can help you avoid miscommunications or making unfair assumptions that could derail the conversation and take you down a rabbit hole that doesn’t contribute to productive discourse. 

Share Thoughtful Insights

Active listening is a two-way street. After understanding the other person’s point of view, you can share your ideas, feelings and recommendations to build upon the speaker’s message and intention. You may also take the opportunity to shift the conversation to problem-solving, if appropriate.

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Active Listening: An Essential Tool for Civil Discourse

Productive civil discourse hinges on our ability to have open-minded discussions about a topic. Active listening allows us to understand different perspectives and engage in meaningful conversations to expand our worldview.

As such, active listening skills are more important than ever in today’s polarizing environment.

Like this article and want to learn more skills to help you engage in productive civil discourse? Subscribe to our blog to get more helpful communication resources like this article.

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