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How to Be an Active Listener

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| April 7, 2022

Active listening: How to practice it, how to tell if someone else does and why it matters.

Hello, anyone there?

Most of us have found ourselves deep into a conversation only to realize that mentally, we left long ago. You may tune out because you are tired, stressed or annoyed. Or perhaps you’re simply not interested in what the other person is saying.

While your lack of attention may not be intentional, it is often perceived as such and can be detrimental to having valuable communication. After all, it doesn’t feel great when you notice someone has stopped listening to you.

Since active listening is such an important soft skill for discourse, we asked our followers how they practice it and how they can tell when someone is or isn't listening. This blog will explore their thought-provoking answers.


Are You Listening?

Hearing isn’t the same as listening. Active listening goes a step beyond simply hearing someone speak. To actively listen to someone in a conversation means to listen with the intent to comprehend.

We asked our followers how they practice in their own lives, and their active listening techniques span nonverbal and verbal communication. This is how our readers practice nonverbal active listening techniques:

  • “Eye contact”
    • When someone is constantly looking at their phone or around the room, it can feel discouraging and hurt communication. Maintaining eye contact communicates that your focus is solely on the other person. 
  • “Face the speaker”
    • The direction of your body may seem unimportant, but this subtle gesture can make the difference between appearing receptive or hostile to what could be a difficult conversation. 
  • “Try to be still”
    • Fidgeting can communicate impatience and boredom—both feelings that can hinder communication. Allowing your body to relax indicates that you are patient and present.

Outside of what you do with your body, what you say is just as vital. This is how our readers practice verbal active listening techniques:

  • “Ask pertinent questions”
    • Asking the right questions allows you to understand the conversation in depth, as well as gives the other person the opportunity to further explore their own thoughts.
  • “Provide validation”
    • While playing devil's advocate can be a useful technique in communication, active listening requires a certain amount of validation from the listening party to show that they understand and empathize.
  • “Respond after they’re finished speaking”
    • Appropriate responses are crucial, but so is timing. When you wait until the speaker is finished, it shows that you aim to get the complete picture rather than racing to give your opinion.

These nonverbal and verbal cues demonstrate the ability to be attentive and engage in a way that encourages understanding alternate points of views, leading to more productive discourse.


Are They Listening?

It can be obvious when someone isn’t listening, and although it can be frustrating, there are a few techniques to help get that conversation back on track.

Here’s what our readers notice when someone isn’t listening (and what can be done to gain their focus again):

  •  “When they redirect the topic and make it all about themselves” 
    • When someone redirects the conversation back to themselves, they may not intentionally be trying to dominate the conversation. They could be attempting to relate or seek validation. Practicing active listening yourself is one way you can respond to this behavior.
  • “They occasionally go ‘oh mhm’ or ‘oh yeah’” or they lack in-depth responses”
    • It takes more than a few nods or simple phrases to practice active listening. Asking open-ended questions, such as, “What do you think?” prompts others to engage and more deeply consider your talking points.
  • “If they try to interject before you’re done talking”
    • As previously mentioned, timing matters! Stating up front that you would like to give the whole picture before hearing other thoughts can be a helpful way to keep interruptions to a minimum. While it may be uncomfortable, this can be a useful method for setting communication expectations.
  • “Eyes that have zoned out”
    • Eye contact can be the first thing to go in a conversation, so taking a brief pause can be a considerate way to give the other person the chance to come back to the present.

Many of us are guilty of losing focus or interest, so try not to take it personally if you notice any of these signs. Employing these techniques can help steer the conversation, as well as provide gentle-yet-constructive feedback on the other person’s active listening skills.


Why Active Listening Is Important

Active listening is to communication as communication is to discourse. That’s to say, they are fundamental for each other to exist.

Ultimately, we all want to be heard, and we owe it to each other to listen attentively. It’s one of the kindest and most respectful gifts we can give each other, and it’s one of the few things that doesn’t cost much yet yields a wonderful reward.

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