Active listening means giving a speaker your full attention and trying to understand the complete message.
Signs of active listening can be verbal or non-verbal. They include:
- positive reinforcement;
- asking questions;
- smiling and nodding;
- staying focused.
Why is active listening important?
Being an active listener can have many benefits. As we already mentioned, active listening involves understanding the point behind what someone is saying, not just the words.
In the classroom, this translates to improved learning and understanding, as pupils are better able to retain information and are less likely to get distracted. Active listening skills in the classroom are essential – they ensure that children learn effectively and efficiently and understand what’s being asked of them.
Furthermore, in terms of being an important life skill, active listeners:
- tend to be good at communicating and problem-solving;
- can work more quickly;
- are more resourceful and productive;
- experience fewer misunderstandings.
Top Tips for becoming an excellent listener
Do you want to improve your listening skills? These top tips are super easy to implement and are guaranteed to make you a more effective listener!
- Tip 1: Face the person speaking to you.
One of the most distracting things a person can do when you are trying to talk to them is to avoid eye contact with you. It is distracting and gives the impression that you’re not interested in what the other person says. Whether looking down at your phone, scanning the room for another person, watching the television, or something else, avoiding eye contact is not a sign of being an effective listener.
Therefore, eye contact is a super important listening skill. When someone is speaking to you, making eye contact with them shows that you are engaged and interested in what they are saying. To make sure you do this, you can remove any distractions that may be around you. This may mean turning off the TV, putting down your phone, etc.
- Tip 2: Listening actively but within reason.
Carrying on from the last tip, while making eye contact with the person speaking to, it’s also equally important not to scare them. Staring unblinkingly at someone as they try to converse with you can be just as distracting as not paying any attention to them, so it is crucial to strike the right balance. To do this, relax and try not to overthink it.
There is no set measurement for how much eye contact to make with the person speaking to you. Generally, you can go by how much eye contact feels natural. But, of course, this will vary from person to person.
- Tip 3: Don’t interrupt.
One of the most important listening skills for kids to develop is not interrupting when another person is speaking. This message will be drilled into them, likely at home and school. They will be expected to sit quietly and listen attentively as the teacher speaks from the moment they start school. This listening skill, like anything, takes some time for children to develop and perfect, but by the time they are in their second or third year of school, they tend to be pretty good at it.
While they are taught not to interrupt in the classroom, kids often don’t apply the same rule to their conversations with friends. When the power dynamic of ‘teacher and student’ is removed, kids typically feel comfortable throwing rules out of the window and interrupting whenever they want. To some extent, this is to be expected in excited conversations amongst friends, but it should be avoided whenever possible.
Interrupting isn’t usually done out of rudeness but enthusiasm. When people are engaged in a conversation, they want to give their opinion. Furthermore, if the person speaking is detailing a problem that they’re having, it can be very tempting to interrupt with various solutions. While the intentions behind these interruptions are good, the outcomes are still negative. Therefore, it is always best to air on the side of patience and wait until the other person is finished speaking to voice your thoughts.
- Tip 4: Don’t get side-tracked by unnecessary questions.
This tip follows from the previous one. When conversing with someone, especially if they are telling a story with many different elements, it is easy to get sidetracked. This is not always a negative thing. Tangents can be super fun and interesting aspects of conversation, but there is a time and a place for them. You mustn’t push the person speaking into tangents by asking slightly irrelevant questions. Doing this prevents can be very frustrating for the speaker as it stops them from properly finishing their story or making their point and shifts the control of the conversation over to the listener.
Asking questions is not a negative thing across the board. However, like most things, they can be useful when used correctly. Sometimes asking questions will be necessary to ensure or solidify your understanding of certain aspects of a person’s story. For instance, if a person is telling you a story about their sister living in Spain, it would be okay to ask questions like “Which sister is this again?” or “Whereabouts in Spain is she living?” These questions don’t side-track the conversation or shift the topic at all. Instead, they allow the person speaking to continue their story, but with added details.
- Tip 5: Try your best to empathize with the person speaking.
This listening skill is particularly useful if someone shares something emotional with you or confides in you about something personal. Empathy is the ability to deeply understand and feel what another person is experiencing from their point of view. By being empathetic, you are essentially placing yourself in another person’s shoes.
Being empathetic when a person is sharing something emotional with you is an excellent social skill that will make the other person feel seen and heard. You can also affirm your empathy by making short remarks, such as, “I understand” and “That must have been so hard for you.” It is best to use these phrases sparingly so as not to distract the speaker and primarily convey your empathy through facial expressions.
While empathy is perhaps most important when listening to an emotional story, it is also a great skill to use when listening to more upbeat tales. For instance, empathy can manifest as laughing heartily at a funny story told by a friend.
- Tip 6: Pay attention to tone and non-verbal cues.
Human beings are complex creatures, and, as such, a lot of what we say is often never vocalized through words. Instead, we reveal our deepest and most important thoughts through body language and non-verbal cues. This listening skill is key to effective communication in school and the workplace.
Regardless of your conversation with a person, a lot can be learned from their non-verbal cues. Are their arms crossed? Are they holding their head in their hands? Are they gesturing with their hands a lot?
As we live in a technology-centric time, there are situations in which we cannot pay attention to a person’s body language. These include email, text messages, phone calls, messages on social media, etc. In the case of a phone call, you can listen carefully to a person’s tone of voice to gain extra insight into their mindset. For instance, a person could tell a seemingly normal story, but if their tone seems unhappy, you can know that they might be sad.
What can prevent good listening?
Many factors can stop you from being a good and active listener. Let’s have a look at some of these factors and how you can avoid them:
- Wandering thoughts
One of the biggest threats to effective listening is wandering thoughts. When someone is speaking, it can be tempting to latch onto just one or two sentences of what they have said. Unfortunately, doing this means you will likely. This is an innocent mistake to make and can happen for several reasons. For example, if someone speaks particularly quickly, it can be hard to follow what they say. As such, the brain grabs at anything it can get a hold of, and you tend to end up with just a few snippets of their story. This is why communication is a two-way street, it is not enough for the listener to be engaged, and the speaker must also be mindful.
Daydreaming is something everyone does, and while it is not inherently bad, it can be very fun; it is a huge barrier to effective listening. When someone is speaking to you, be sure to pay close attention to what they are saying. This means keeping your mind focused on the subject of the conversation before you, not fixating on the stories in your head.
- Physical blocks and barriers
Sometimes our surroundings act against us and stop us from listening effectively. Despite your best efforts, paying attention to what someone is saying can be difficult if loud noises and distracting visuals surround you. These external distractions are particularly prevalent if you are speaking to someone outside. They also tend to be present in a lot of classrooms. Having 30 kids in one classroom can result in a pretty distracting environment. Therefore, it is sometimes a good idea to have a designated talking area where you and your students can go to have important conversations. You can keep this area quiet and distraction-free to promote effective communication.
- Constant interruptions
As mentioned earlier, interruptions are a huge barrier to effective listening. If you or your students interrupt conversations a lot, it is a sign that you need to work on your listening skills.
Five active listening group activities
This classic game is a good active listening group activity. Great for children who can’t keep still, it allows them to practice paying attention to instructions and using the information they hear to act.
The Telephone Game
In this game, one person presents a sentence and whispers it to the next person in the circle or line. This person listens carefully before whispering the punishment to the person on the other side. The sentence travels down the line or around the process until it reaches the final person who says it out loud. In the end, you can see how much the sentence has changed and how well everyone has been listening.
Follow The Directions
Give every child a piece of paper and ask them to listen carefully. Then, read a series of short, simple instructions and ask them to draw the directions they hear. See who can be the most accurate.
You can use active listening to build a story together in this activity. The first person begins the story with something like, ‘Once upon a time, there lived a great green dragon with a spiky tail.’ The next person uses their active listening skills to add something new to the story.
Spot The Change
Read your children a short story. Then read it again with a few changes. After that, Childrenthey can raise their hands when they hear a change clap. Even better, this is a simple activity that you can incorporate into your normal story time at the end of the day.