I was coaching a senior NGO executive working through the struggles of listening she felt she had. She knew she should be listening better but felt focused on results and getting things done rather than taking the time to listen to what was being said to her.

She felt this sense of impatience when she was being spoken to about hurrying up and finishing what the person speaking to her was saying. And it was this that bought her to me. She wanted to develop her leadership style, starting with being a better listener. An active listener. So how do you show you are actively listening?

We worked together for several months identifying key communication and listening tools. Therefore enabling her to tune in to and refine her communication skills-an integral part of her leadership style. Giving her the ability to then connect to and develop with employees and colleagues.

I’m sure there are likely times where not actively listening can resonate with us all can it not? It’s not an exclusive skill saved just for the walls within the office. We are all at points not as great a listener as we would like to be.

It’s not just listening but actively listening that is key whether it be through a role that we have within the workplace or indeed relationships with friends or family. Being able to actively listen can lead to successful outcomes at home and in the office. I have compiled some essential core tips for active listening – and to show you are actively listening –

1) Clear your own thoughts

In order to be able to offer your full attention to an individual, to a colleague or within a business meeting you need to be able to command full attention of your own thoughts. That is you need to be able to clear your thoughts to focus on what the other person is saying- you need to be present.

Observing your own thoughts and letting them pass is a skill which may not come naturally to you and may mean some effort on your behalf. The process is similar to that of mediation and if it is something that you do not already practice it could be beneficial in being able to assist in retaining your focus.

2) Give your undivided attention

Being able to give your undivided attention is more than what you may do with your eyes. It’s your body language, your eye contact, your responses to the other person.

When you’re wanting to actively listen you need to ensure your body language says that you are doing just so. It shows the person that is speaking that you are listening and engaged to what it is that they’re saying. Posture yourself so that you’re open and receptive. Mimic and emulate their own body language.

Maintain your eye focus but keep it natural and without interrupting you can show you are listening and giving your undivided attention by at times occasionally responding with a slight of sound such as, ‘hmmm’.

3) Be able to reflect

If you’re able to effectively re-play the conversation and to show understanding to the speaker then you can show you have listened and understood with accuracy. By this you need to utilise the final few words spoken by the speaker and reflect them with clarity.

4) Use paraphrasing where appropriate

When responding to the person that has spoken it shows a great depth of understanding to use the speaker’s own words. It shows you have attentively and accurately listened to what has been said. That being said be careful to have understood context and fully comprehend the views of the person speaking.

5) Reflect positive and negative feelings

As human beings we reflect how we think and feel within our feelings. We like to feel understood by what we have said. It creates a level of understanding between the person speaking and the individual listening.

It can be incredibly effective to respond to the person whom has spoken with how you feel they have described their emotion in what was being spoken about. Feelings of course can be good or bad, negative or positive so be careful when acknowledging what you noticed rather than telling someone how they feel.

This can be done by saying something along the lines of, ‘as you were describing how you felt about that you seemed really elated,’ or ‘You seemed really unhappy when you detailed how you felt about that situation,’ etc.

6) Ask Questions

This really is an extension on active listening. It isn’t truly an element of active listening but demonstrates a level of understanding and shows the speaker you have understood. Asking questions that are relevant about the spoken topic in order to extend understanding shows interest and respect to the speaker.

All of the elements listed above are a collective. They do not exist as one, rather they should co-exist with one another. Each is as essential as the other. Whether they come to you naturally or need to be learnt they are part of an imperative skillset in individual and leadership success
and progression.

Do you feel that you’re an effective and active listener?

If you feel that your skills personally or professionally could benefit from coaching please do get in touch. You can email me at palena@unabridgedleadership.com visit my webpage at www.unabridgedleadership.com and contact me via LinkedIn: Palena Neale or Twitter: @PalenaNeale.

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Look out for Part 2 within this series which details tips on How to Give Effective Feedback: What We Know But May Have Forgotten…..