Active Listening to Grow Rapport
Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills. Listening is not something that just happens (that is hearing), listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker.
Listeners should remain neutral and non-judgmental, this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in the conversation. Active listening is also about patience – pauses and short periods of silence should be accepted.
Listeners should not be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there are a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings, they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that.
Having big ears or hearing louder isn’t the same as listening. Active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.
Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.
Benefits of Active Listening
When you actively listen, you grow trust and rapport, learn the best questions to ask for clarity and accuracy, learn the real problems your prospect is having, discern if your prospect has a problem you can help with or not (sort), and create an environment of health conversation. By not listening to respond (waiting for them to shut up so you can talk), listening to compete (1 up), nor listening to attack *yeah but) you add to your prospects feeling safety and can further nurture the relationship.
To Avoid to Enhance Active Listening
- Avoid listening to respond, listening to compete, and listening to attack
- Avoid distractions like checking your watch, notifications on your smartwatch and smartphone, and any other distractions such as doodling, playing with your hair, picking your nailes, etc.
- Avoid being rushed by making sure you have enough time for the important conversations, schedule enough time, and add time or reschedule as needed
Non-Verbal Signs of Attentive or Active Listening
Small smiles can be used to show that the listener is paying attention to what is being said or as a way of agreeing or being happy about the messages being received. Combined with nods of the head, smiles can be powerful in affirming that messages are being listened to and understood.
It is normal encouraging for the listener to look at the speaker. Eye contact can, however, be intimidating, especially for more shy speakers – gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for any given situation. Combine eye contact with smiles and other non-verbal messages to encourage the speaker.
Posture can tell a lot about the sender and receiver in interpersonal interactions. The attentive listener tends to lean slightly forward. Other signs of active listening may include a slight slant of the head or resting the head on one hand. A finger over the mouth communicates that we aren’t waiting to talk over them. Instead, it communicates that we aren’t planning on talking…just listening with empathy.
Reflection of any facial expressions, body language, and verbal cues used by the speaker can be a sign of attentive listening. These reflective expressions can help to show sympathy and empathy in more emotional situations. Be careful to mirror not mimic and certainly don’t overdo.
Verbal Signs of Attentive or Active Listening
Although a strong signal of attentiveness, caution should be used when using positive verbal reinforcement. Although some positive words of encouragement may be beneficial to the speaker the listener should use them sparingly so as not to distract from what is being said or place unnecessary emphasis on parts of the message.
I’ve learned recently that it can be more powerful just to express empathy for how rough a situation or experience can be, instead of pointing out the silver lining, telling them everything will be okay or communicating that it isn’t as big of a deal as they think. “I can imagine that is very frustrating, scary, uncomfortable, etc…”
Casual and frequent use of words and phrases, such as: ‘very good’, ‘yes’ or ‘indeed’ can become irritating to the speaker. It is usually better to elaborate and explain why you are agreeing with a certain point.
The human mind is notoriously bad at remembering details, especially for any length of time. However, remembering a few key points, or even the name of the speaker, can help to reinforce that the messages sent have been received and understood – i.e. listening has been successful. Remembering details, ideas and concepts from previous conversations prove that attention was kept and is likely to encourage the speaker to continue. During longer exchanges, it may be appropriate to make very brief notes to act as a memory jog when questioning or clarifying later.
The listener can demonstrate that they have been paying attention by asking relevant questions and/or making statements that build or help to clarify what the speaker has said. By asking relevant questions the listener also helps to reinforce that they have an interest in what the speaker has been saying.
When it comes to questioning, consider not just the words you are using but also the tonality, body language, and intent. The use of buffering statement or kind lead-in phrase can help communicate both tact and empathy. For example, “I’m kind of confused. Did you say __________?” Or, “Please help me understand ____________.”
Reflecting is closely repeating or paraphrasing what the speaker has said in order to show comprehension. Reflection is a powerful skill that can reinforce the message of the speaker and demonstrate understanding. For example, “Please make sure I got this right and correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong….[Restate what you think you heard].”
Clarifying involves asking questions of the speaker to ensure that the correct message has been received. Clarification usually involves the use of open questions which enables the speaker to expand on certain points as necessary. For example, “When you said ___________, what exactly did you mean?”
Repeating a summary of what has been said back to the speaker is a technique used by the listener to repeat what has been said in their own words. Summarizing involves taking the main points of the received message and reiterating them in a logical and clear way, giving the speaker a chance to correct if necessary.
The difference between Reflecting upon or Paraphrasing and Summarizing is which words and message we choose to convey. Reflecting is using mostly our own words, feelings, and message to confirm the message received; whereas, Summarizing is more precisely using the speaker’s words, phraseology, and message.