Put active listening to practice

The voice inside your head telling you that you need to turn a conversation back to yourself, is often an insecure one. The same voice will also tell you to deliver an answer before a question has been articulated. Naturally, acting based on our insecurities isn’t a good idea. 


The remedy—active listening—is difficult.


Not only because it requires you to pay attention to whoever you’re talking to, but also because it needs you to withhold judgement till after fully comprehending the other person’s point of view.


A good place to start is to consciously make the decision to listen before a conversation. The rest often follows: 


# Prepare yourself to listen


If you evaluate yourself to be a serial interrupter in conversations, do this: Prepare to ignore your first instincts. That’s the primal, insecure voice from earlier. It has no place in civil society.


Instead, focus on:


– The body language of your conversational partner(s)

– Maintaining periodic eye contact with the person you are speaking to

– Not formulating a response in your head

– Ignoring distracting thoughts


# Display verbal and nonverbal cues


While your responses, and how you construct them are an indicator of how well you are listening, you can also show active listening through how you behave while the other person is talking. For example:


– The occasional nod

– Verbal affirmations: “Yes”, “Uh-uh”, “Right”, etc.

– Appropriate facial expressions (a smile, for example)

– An open posture (uncrossed limbs, open palms)

– Subtle mirroring


For a purely textual conversation, replying as soon as you see someone’s message will indicate that you are actively engaged in the conversation.


# Seek clarification – Dig deeper


(We talked about using questions to help in listening in a previous email. Read here.)


Identify what the speaker wants out of the conversation. This is not always immediately apparent. 


The best way to find out to to ask clarifying questions:


“What do you mean by…?”, “How can I help?”, “Let me know if I’m understanding correctly,…?”


Once you are set on a direction for questioning, you can dig deeper. Questions that prompt this, may include:


“Tell me more about..?”, “Could you describe…?”, “How do you feel about…?”



Many people struggle to listen constructively and actively (I know I do). This is because knowing what to do, and actually doing it are two separate things. Bridging the gap involves finding a personal reason to do so. 


See you next time,