Active Listening means Active Understanding

We get it, you're in a meeting and can't help but zone out. You may be thinking about what you need to pick up at the store or trying to remember if blew out that candle in the other room. Either way, you're not listening to what the person is saying.

What were we talking about again?
Oh, that's right.

I'll tell you how to ensure you're always tuned in and engaged in every conversation. Active listening is a skill that can be learned and honed. Trust me; it's worth the effort.

Active listening is about understanding the speaker's wants, needs, pressures, and priorities. In other words, it's about trying to see things from their perspective. And when you do that, suddenly, all those meetings that used to feel like a waste of time become opportunities to learn more about your colleagues, build relationships, and further your career.

Suppose you're meeting with your boss, and she's describing a new project. If you're passively listening, you might hear her say, "I need this done by Friday." But if you're actively listening, you might pick up on the fact that she sounds stressed and worried about completing the project on time.

Suppose you respond to her by saying, "Don't worry, I'll have it done by Thursday." You've assured her that the project will be completed on time and demonstrated that you're aware of her emotional state by emphasizing her well-being. That level of responsiveness will earn points with your boss and position you well for future opportunities.

Here are some tips to be successful:

1. Pay attention to body language.

In addition to the words, pay attention to the speaker's body language. Body language can clue you into what they're feeling and thinking. For example, they're making eye contact, leaning in, and engaging with your words. By paying attention to these nonverbal cues, you can better understand where the conversation is going.

2. Don't interrupt.

It can be tempting to jump in and offer your opinion when you feel like you know where the conversation is going. Resist interrupting and let the other person finish speaking. It's rude, but it shows you're more interested in talking than listening. So instead, let the other person have their say and offer your thoughts in response. You never know how they're going to finish their thought.

3. Ask questions.

Ask a clarifying question if you're unsure what the other person is trying to say. The question shows that you're interested in understanding their point of view and ensures no misunderstandings later. Asking questions also shows that you value the other person's opinion and want to learn from them.

4. Repeat back what you've heard.

Once the other person has finished speaking, repeat back what you've heard in your own words. The repetition demonstrates that you were paying attention and allows for clarification if there is anything unclear. Simply hearing yourself say something out loud will help you catch any misunderstandings so you can address them before they become a problem.

So the next time someone asks if you're paying attention during a meeting, don't just say "yes" - make sure that they know you're actively listening and understanding what they're saying. It'll do wonders for your career.

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