Soft Skills 101: Active Listening

Picture this. You’re in a meeting, a colleague is speaking, but you have no idea what they’re saying. You feel like Charlie Brown in school, and all you hear is a garble of sound. This brief example of active listening NOT put into practice.


Communication soft skills like active listening are vital to creating a healthy and productive work environment. Unfortunately, these skills are lacking in many businesses. Many professionals spend years upon years trying to perfect their technical skills that all soft skills get left in the dust. And while there isn’t a degree in active listening, we still need to talk about it. If you struggle with this skill, there is no need to be ashamed. Even the best of communicators struggle to listen sometimes.


Active listening prevents miscommunication. When we don’t communicate clearly in the workplace, accidents can and do happen. Active listening isn’t just about hearing someone speak and coming up with an appropriate response. This communication skill helps build healthy relationships between colleagues and employers. As a result, it makes it easier for colleagues to collaborate, increasing productivity. Lastly, active listening allows employees to better recognize and solve problems in the workplace.


What causes us to not actively listen?

Listening seems like it should be second nature, so why do so many professionals struggle with it? For one, most people are too busy thinking about what they are going to say next. Other causes might be distractions from your phone, other colleagues, or maybe you have a ton on your mind.


How can we listen more actively?


Hold eye contact with the speaker

Maintaining eye contact with the speaker is an effortless but effective way to let them know you are listening. Focusing on your colleague’s face can also keep you from caving into distractions. If, for some reason, you can’t be looking at the speaker for a prolonged time, such as taking notes (another excellent tool for listening), be sure to let them know.


Be mindful of body language

Keep aware of your body language and how others might perceive it. You want your colleague to know you are physically and mentally present, which can easily be done by just sitting up straight. Physically getting yourself prepared will place you in the right mindset.


Really listen closely

Listen closely; sounds obvious, right? Eye contact and positive body language are super important, but it also can be easy to fake. Don’t just go through the motions but genuinely engage with your colleagues.


Pick up on nuances

A lot of the time, the words left unsaid speak the loudest. While you might hear and understand what someone said, do you know what they meant? A good listener knows non-verbal cues are equally important to understand as verbal ones. Practice reading facial expressions or subtle or subtle changes in body language. How does the speaker’s physicality differ from their spoken words?


Eliminate distractions

As discussed above, one of the hindrances to active listening is distractions. Anyone with manners knows it’s rude to be fumbling around on your phone or busying yourself with other things when having a conversation. When in a discussion, be mindful of putting away your phone and anything else that could be distracting. If you have a loud and hectic workplace, try to find a quiet space to give your colleague your full attention.


Get clarification

If all else fails, remember, it’s okay to ask for clarification, and we even encourage it! There’s no need to feel bad about asking someone to repeat themselves or seek out extra confirmation.


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