10 ways to practice Active Listening

How often did you come up with a very strong argument, be extremely involved in a discussion, only for the other person to tell you "I don't understand!"?
How often do you meet someone, only to find yourself 5 minutes later not remembering their name?
How often were you so caught up in building arguments in a fight that what the other person was saying, wasn't reaching you?

When communicating, listening can be as important as feedback. However, when we talk about listening to someone, we shouldn't do so like in a debate - using key words and sentences to mount a counterargument, but to truly understand what the other person is trying to convey.

Most of the time, in all three above scenarios, a couple of things help: active listening, understanding what we hear and 100% presence. 
In today's article, I've set out to talk a little bit about this, especially since I'm practicing my ability to actively listen during this week's Toastmasters project. I'll start with active listening or how to listen to understand, not to reply. In the near future(sooner rather than later, I hope), to talk about techniques which enable you to be 100% present in conversations.

Listening influences 100% of our lives, at work by streamlining processes and our relationship with our colleagues, at home by having a better connection with our loved ones, in public by appreciating those special people around us. Considering that we are born listeners, it is known that babies smile when they recognize their mother's voice which they've been hearing inside the womb, we should be good at listening. However, studies have shown that we remember about 25-50% of what we hear. In the best case scenario, we lose half of the info that we receive. If there is something important in the remaining percentage, which ones should be remember?

Well, like any other muscle, the one of the ears can be trained and in between, the brain, as well. What would it mean for us to be better listeners? We would avoid conflict, we'd sharpen our negotiation, sales and persuasion skills.

Here are 10 steps that you can take and practice in the conversations that you have with those around you, to make sure that active listening becomes a well trained muscle:

  1. Be present - accordingly to a research carried out by Harvard University scientists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert in year 2010, we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about things that will NOT happen. Unlike animals, people spend a big part of their time thinking about past events, about what might happen in the future or might not happen at all;
  2. Keep an open mind - avoid assuming or judging before the person talking has finished speaking his or her stories; 
  3. Show that you listen - nod occasionally, smile and use other facial expressions which convey interest, keep the conversation going through little remarks such as: "yes, aha, I understand, ha";
  4. Pay attention to body language - Both yours and the person talking - keep an open posture, try not to be restless or crackle your fingers and if the space allows it, gently lean towards the speaker without invading his personal space; 
  5. Listen for key words and ideas and make sure you've understood them by phrases such as: "what I heard was", ",seem to me like you are...", "what I understood was..."
  6. Rephrase what the speaker said in order to be sure that you got the complete message, allowing the chance for the other person to clarify anything that was not properly understood by you;
  7. Ask questions if you think something is not understand, to make sure you got the full message: "What do you mean by...", "What you're trying to say is...", "By this you mean..."
  8. Give feedback - personal filters, experiences and prejudice can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said and for that you need to reflect on that is being spoken and ask questions;
  9. Summarize every now and then, to show interest but also to show that you are paying attention and that you understand the things. When summarizing, it is the perfect time to to clarify what information has been conveyed and what information has not reached you;
  10. Evaluate, but don't judge! When the speaker has finished talking, store the received information, breathe, think about what you have learned before replying. Be straight forward, honest and open in your reply. Back-up your arguments and treat the other person they way you would want to be treated.

Going back to my previous questions, I will provide a solution in remembering the names of the people you've just met. I think that the other two questions have been answered throughout this article. Most of the time when someone new introduces themselves, we think what to say about ourselves, forgetting to focused on the person in front of us. We already know enough about ourselves so we won't be caught off guard and forget our own name. So instead of being in our heads, thinking about how to make our introduction, let's listen and hear and understand the people around us. If practice makes perfect, it doesn't hurt to add a "Pleased to meet you (person name here). My name is Ana!"