7 Ways to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Active listening is an essential life skill – both in your career and personal life. But what does it mean to be an active listener? In a conversation, active listening means being fully present and interacting with the other person in a meaningful way (instead of just waiting for your turn to speak). As a freelancer, active listening can help improve your communication with clients, making them feel valued and improving your working relationship.

Interested in learning how to be a better listener? Keep reading for seven ways to improve your active listening skills.

1. Consider Nonverbal Cues

Much of communication is unspoken, so paying attention to nonverbal cues can give you insight into the speaker’s state of mind and help you become a better active listener. For example, if you notice the person you’re speaking to has their arms crossed and is slouching, it could be a clue that they’re feeling defensive. Someone who’s speaking quickly could be nervous or excited.

If you want to show that you’re engaged in a conversation, consider positive body language, like smiling, nodding when appropriate, and slightly leaning into the speaker.

2. Maintain Eye Contact

Making eye contact is an important part of active listening. It shows the other person that you’re focused on what they’re saying and that your surroundings aren’t distracting you. However, be careful, because too much eye contact could make the person you’re speaking to uncomfortable. Try this method: Hold eye contact for around five seconds, and then briefly look away before making eye contact again.

3. Paraphrase What You Hear

Another active listening technique is to summarize what the speaker has said, otherwise known as reflecting what you hear. This lets the other person know that you’ve heard what they’re saying and allows them to correct you if you’ve misunderstood. Additionally, if you’re speaking to a coworker or client about a task, quickly paraphrasing what they’ve asked you will ensure you’ve understood the instructions and aren’t missing any key points.

4. Don’t Interrupt

It may seem obvious, but a big part of active listening is letting the other person finish what they’re saying before responding. Although it may not be your intention, interruptions signal to the speaker that you’re not interested in what they have to say and that what you have to say is more important. If you struggle with this, try waiting a full second after someone stops speaking to ensure they have nothing else to add. Remember that letting someone speak without interrupting shows respect, which is especially important in the workplace or when dealing with clients as a freelancer.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

If you want to improve your active listening skills, try asking open-ended questions instead of ones that require a simple “yes” or “no” response. This helps keep the conversation flowing and indicates your genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Some examples of open-ended questions are

·  What do you think you’ll do next?

·  What did you learn from the experience?

·  Can you tell me more about what happened?

·  What do you think you’ll do differently next time?

Open-ended questions can be helpful if you’re speaking to someone you don’t know well, as they encourage a deeper discussion.

6. Make a Mental Picture

Even if you’re trying to concentrate during a conversation, it can be easy to get preoccupied or plan what you want to say next. To help you focus, create a mental picture as the other person speaks. This helps you stay engaged and prevents your mind from wandering.  

7. Give Feedback

At the end of the conversation, provide meaningful feedback to the speaker if you’re asked. If someone has asked for your feedback, it shows they value your opinion, so be sure to keep an open mind throughout the conversation and thoughtfully consider any guidance you give on the topics you’ve discussed.

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