It is a common misconception that effective communication can happen without active listening. We learn to write and speak both at the same time, but there are many skills that are developed by listening.

The process of hearing what someone is saying, processing it in your own thoughts, and then responding requires more than just tuning out the outside world for a few minutes. To be an active listener you must listen attentively as if you were asking a question to clarify something in your own mind or understanding.

This is a form that helps you become more aware and to better understand someone else. By showing your active listening, you are becoming a person that other people will enjoy being around.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is the ability to focus on a speaker's message, comprehend it, and respond to what is being said. To be an effective listener you must be an active listener by getting involved with the conversation and not letting your mind wander. When listening, three aspects are the most important: What are the speaker's needs?  Who is the speaker? and are there any other things or thoughts that the speaker may want to share? 

How to become an Active Listener?

Active listening can be difficult to do, but it vastly improves your interpersonal skills and overall attitude. It allows you to better understand the needs and concerns of others, which in turn allows for more effective communication and less misunderstanding. A good listener will remember what was said and take note of the information that was presented by others.

Below are a few techniques that you can use to become an active listener, These tips can apply to any form of communication, whether it be in person or remotely. 

1. Befriend that person or group

Build a relationship with that person by associating yourself with them and forming a bond. If someone is asking you to listen to their statement, they want to feel comfortable talking to you and sharing their ideas. You can do this by being supportive of what they have to say, asking questions, and giving them feedback as well as your own input. They are much more likely to open up to you if they feel as though there is a mutual bond between the two of you.

2. Listen with your eyes

Looking someone in the eyes when they are talking helps calm them and it demonstrates to them that you are taking everything they say seriously. People often perceive listening to be a simple process, but it is much more difficult than you think. Being able to pay attention and keep track of what is being said and understanding it allows you to more easily take their point of view into consideration and give them feedback that reflects their needs as well as yours.

3. Be there

"Be there" means being present in whatever conversation you are having. If they are talking, give your full attention to them, but if you need to concentrate on something else for a while, simply let them know that and ask if it is okay for you to do so. You may not be able to give your full attention at all times because of many reasons, but try your best to focus on the conversation they are having with you.

4. Listen with your intent

Once you are actively listening to someone, it is important to have a specific purpose and intention with how you are listening. If your intent is to be defensive, then you are sure to come across as a listener that does not have respect for the opinion of others. Conversely, if your goal is to be an avid listener that has an open mind and does not judge what they hear from other people, then they will know that they can talk freely without fear of being judged by others.

5. Listen to the nuances

Learn to listen to what someone is saying and not just their words. Be sure to sense when something else is going on that may be more important than what they are discussing at the moment. 

6. Ask questions that help you understand this person and their world better

After being around someone long enough, you can begin to sense what they like and dislike, what they are passionate about, and how they express themselves best.

7. Don't be afraid to insert your opinions or share your ideas when you feel it is appropriate.

If the person or group asks for your feedback, don’t hold it back and give your opinion about the matter or the situation, if they don’t directly ask you for it, read the signs if they are open to accepting another opinion that might differ from theirs.

8. Be as tactful

As you can because what you are saying will affect the people around you in some way so try to keep this in mind with every conversation that you have with them.

How to become an Active Listener in a Remote environment?

Since the amount of face-to-face interaction is much less, remote work and listening may seem to be at odds at times. But just because face-to-face meetings aren't always possible doesn't mean that good listening can't happen.

If you work remotely or with a co-located team, here's how you can improve your listening skills and create a better listening atmosphere.

1. Create responsiveness rules

You will minimize feelings of people not being heard or their messages being ignored when there are clear communication standards. How easily do you expect people to respond to e-mails, instant messages, or phone calls? It's important to establish what the rules of responsiveness are with your coworkers.

2. Arrange for non-distracting conversations

Regardless of how you communicate, this rule applies. When you're multitasking, it's more difficult to pay attention. Since the person on the phone or in your chat conversation can't see that you're on your laptop sending an email or checking your smartwatch, it's easier to fall into the multitasking cycle of online communication. To improve your listening skills, do whatever you can to eliminate distractions and keep your attention on the conversation at hand. That means managing notifications and avoiding the temptation to multitask when listening.

3. Read before responding

This might seem obvious, but often in a rush, we answer after glancing at what someone said, only to find that it wasn't what the person was asking, or that there was an entire section we overlooked. Take the time to read. Then you should answer. Otherwise, you risk developing a reputation for not paying attention.

To Sums This Up

Being an active listener entails a great deal of focus and determination. Old habits are difficult to break, and if your listening skills are as bad as many people's, you'll have to put in a lot of effort to break them. These tips should be helpful in listening to others through the various ways that they can communicate with one another.