Active listening: how to learn more by talking less
Updated: Jun 30
“Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. They’ll feel good as they talk, and they’ll associate those good feelings with you. That is the winning formula.” - Dale Carnegie
In today’s fast-paced world roughly 55% of our time, each day is spent listening to other people. The human brain is capable of processing more than 450 words per minute. Still, studies show that most people can only remember 17-25% of the things they hear.
It turns out that listening can be quite challenging.
Even if it appears as if we are paying attention to what others are saying, we are often just waiting for our turn to talk, thinking about the message we want to communicate or the idea, service or product we want to sell. To tackle this urge, we can focus on developing active listening skills.
Active listening is the ability to completely focus on a speaker, understand the information they are sharing, and respond thoughtfully. Contrary to “hearing”, this communication skill makes sure that we are fully engaged in the conversation, while allowing us to better remember the conversation later.
Listening actively to others helps us improve personal relationships and contribute more to our team.
Here are three tips to help improve your active listening skills:
1. Listen to understand, not to respond
When we ask a question our purpose should be to understand, not reply. Research shows that only 10% of people listen to understand. The rest are formulating and preparing an answer in their head, thus missing vital information, points that could have helped with answering differently.
Get comfortable with silence, stay quiet and don’t interrupt while others are talking. Attending to what the speaker has to say without thinking of our response will allow us to process the information they are communicating more effectively and understand their situation better.
2. Reflect back using their own words and ask “Have I understood correctly?”
This is a great way to let them know that we have been paying attention. The power of simply repeating the key points back to people, using their words, shows that we have been actively listening. Showing them that they have been heard and understood helps to make a positive impression. This helps build trust and signals that we are interested in what they are sharing, which invites them to share more on the topic.
Finally don’t be afraid to ask “Have I understood correctly?” If they answer with “no” or “not exactly”, we are given the opportunity to ask questions that will minimise confusion and limit miscommunication.
3. Continue the discussion by asking relevant questions
Asking questions is a very important aspect of active listening. Once we are positive that we understood correctly, it is important to keep drilling down and try to find out more. We can achieve this by asking questions that will help us get to the bottom of “why”, why it is they are sharing all this.
Expanding and clarifying questions are great tools that can help us understand their personal and professional motivations. Asking questions as simple as “tell me more about...” or “and what else...” will get them talking, while showing that we are genuinely interested in what they are saying. We can increase the probabilities of them sharing by asking framed questions.
People are likely to share more if we demonstrate that we have even a fundamental understanding of the situation or challenges they are facing. We achieve that by asking framed questions, using a statement that shows we have an understanding of their situation followed by the actual question. Here is an example of a general question:
“What are your holiday plans for the summer?”
And here is the framed version of this question:
“You mentioned that you love the beach and that your brother lives by the sea in Cornwall. Do you have any summer holiday plans? Are you planning on visiting him during the summer?”
By asking framed questions, we can build on the information they have already shared with us and get them talking about their goals and challenges. The more we urge them to talk and ask questions, the more we demonstrate that we care about them. It is also important to remember all the information they share and refer back to it when talking to them in the future.
“The world is giving you answers each day. Learn how to take a moment and listen”
By putting these techniques into practice, you can really improve your relationships and sales skills. Let us know how you get on.