Expressing interest through active listening

Listening is something that we have to do all day every day and something that we have been doing our whole lives.  You would think that we would be better listeners.  Part of listening is hearing what is being said to us, understanding it, and processing it. The other part of listening is showing the speaker that you are listening.

Research as shown that we don’t hear 25% to 50% of what’s being said to us.  Not hearing what is being said to us can lead us to not get a good idea of the full picture.  It can also leave us accountable for information that we never heard and could potentially leave us looking incompetent later.

Showing that you’re interested and listening is an important part of the equation for two main reasons. First of all, showing the other person that you are listening to them and that you are interested is the best way to keep communication open and make the speaker feel like they are being heard and understood.  If they didn’t want to be heard and understood they would not be speaking.  Secondly, acting like an active listener actually makes you a better listener.  If you make a point to show that you are interested you have to pay attention enough to know how to do that.

To be an active listener you should look at the speaker and really think about what he or she is saying.  Don’t think about other things and most certainly don’t think about what you are going to say next.  This is a common mistake that listeners make because if they’re thinking about what they’re going to say, they are missing what is being said.  And by the time you get the chance to say it, it may be repetitive or irrelevant which prove to everyone that you were not listening.

Apart from actually listening, there are other ways you can show you are listening.  Nod occasionally.  This does not mean that you agree, it only shows that you are understanding what is being said.  Also, facial expressions can be the best tool when listening because they can express emotion without having to interrupt the speaker.  Never look bored.  Always try to have a faint smile and a face that shows that you are interested.  If the speaker says something surprising, reflect the emotion that the speaker wants you to feel with your face, look surprised.  Also, make sure your posture is open.  Make yourself seem open to receiving information.  Always have your shoulders and feet angled at the person.  If you’re going to lean, lean towards the person.  Don’t think about this too much.  If you’re actually listening all of this body language will happen naturally.  If you find yourself not listening checking your body language would be a good way to get yourself back on track.

Apart from body language it is also nice for the listener to speak from time to time.  As the listener you should say “uh huh” or “yes” or some other small symbol that you are listening.  Just like with nodding, just because you say yes does not mean you agree.  It only means you are following the speaker.  When you find the right moment it is also nice to interject remarks to show the speaker that you are listening such as “how interesting” or “do tell me more.”  It is also a good idea to ask questions such as “why did that happen?” or “did he know that was the case?”

The final step to being an active listener and seeming like an active listener is to give feedback.  Sometimes what we hear is not what the other person said so it’s always good to clarify.  Usually at the end of a point at a time when you feel like you have confused the message it’s good to say, “Do you mean…?” or “So the way I understand it is…”  This not only confirms that you have understood the message, it also confirms that you were, in fact, listening.

It takes lots of concentration and determination to be an active listener while communicating that you are listening.  Are you an active listener? If not, you should try to become one.  You will be surprised what a difference it can make in your career and personal life.


Target Language

Remarks to show your interest:

That’s fascinating!

Do tell me more.


That’s unbelievable!

Questions to show your interest:

Did he know about the promotion before it was announced?

Was that due to the market crash?

Was that the result of the downsizing?

Questions to check and show comprehension:

Do you mean that we need to work more in teams?

The way I understand it we need to get more clients.

I may not understand correctly, are you saying that we should stop advertising?


Top 5

Top 5 Distractions in a Meeting

  1. Thinking about something else
  2. Cell phones
  3. Being uncomfortable
  4. Interruptions
  5. Noise