5 Tips for Developing Active Listening Skills

Active listening involves being attentive to what the interlocutor is saying. It means showing interest and avoiding interruptions and distractions. How to put it into practice?
5 Tips for Developing Active Listening Skills
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 12 October, 2023

Active listening is one of the most important social and communication skills for all relationships. It’s about respect and interest. Furthermore, it’s about paying attention, trying to understand, and provide feedback.

Right now, many people have difficulty putting it into practice due to distractions like cell phones and other devices. Fortunately, it’s possible to develop and strengthen it to more consciously process conversations in any context. In the following space, we’ll take a look at 5 key tips.

5 guidelines to develop active listening skills

Imagine that you’re telling someone something and, suddenly, they pick up their cell phone and start answering messages while nodding and saying “aha”. Does this situation sound familiar to you? Surely it does, because it’s repeated daily.

More than once, in conversations with your acquaintances, there’s something that bursts in and interrupts. You’re left in a state of bewilderment about whether you are being listened to, whether you pause, or whether you continue with the story. This scene is the opposite of active listening.

Those who know how to exercise this form of listening have the ability to listen to themselves. It’s a skill linked to empathy, which allows them to value all the components of a message. With this, it’s possible to improve any type of bond, in addition to strengthening emotional intelligence and personal development.

What to do to start applying it? Foremost, we must start with the fact that active listening isn’t ust listening to the other person. It’s about focusing on their message to understand and interpret it. Let’s take a look at some strategies to start applying it.

1. Focus and be present

Avoid the “you talk, I’ll do the ironing, but I’m still listening” vibe. Active listening requires that, for a moment, you suspend multitasking, concentrate and connect with the person in front of you.

It’s about being able to be present with your five senses to respect that story and that moment, instead of thinking about all your to-dos and what awaits you throughout the day.

2. Validate the other person’s emotions and what the other person is feeling

La escucha activa y la amistad
Empathy is a fundamental trait that must be present to develop active listening.

It’s key that your interlocutor feels accompanied and understood. Sometimes you may not agree with what they say or how they behave, but to listen actively you don’t need to agree with everything. Try to recognize that what happens to the other person is important to you and that you are present.

3. Show that you’re listening

Although it’s not recommended to interrupt, it’s suggested to give feedback or a signal that you’re listening. Sometimes this can be done by a brief expression or by paraphrasing, explaining in other words what the person has just said, or asking for more information if something isn’t clear.

4. Pay attention to what the person says and what they do

When you are engaged in a conversation, you can detect not only a verbal level of content, but also an emotional tone. And in that sense, when it comes to active listening, you can give answers to both.

Perhaps the interlocutor tries to keep quiet or “give a logical order” through his or her words, but his or her gestures and posture betray their message. For your part, it’s important that you can give an answer that is appropriate to the circumstances and to what the other person needs.

5. Be mentally and physically prepared to listen

Perhaps it seems obvious to mention it, but sometimes you forget that to have a conversation you need to be both mentally and physically prepared. It’s very difficult to follow the thread of a conversation if your stomach is rumbling from hunger or if you didn’t sleep the night before.

Things to avoid when developing active listening skills

Active listening is a skill and, as such, requires practice. Some of the most common pitfalls that arise – and that you should avoid – are listed below.

Avoid mind-reading

Many times, while the other person is speaking, there’s a tendency to interrupt them to complete their sentences or to interpret what they are trying to explain or what they are thinking. This attitude goes against active listening, since it concentrates you on other aspects, but not on what’s being said.

Something similar happens when you let yourself be carried away by certain information (biases) to try to adapt what you are hearing to a preconceived idea – that is, when you omit certain details to confirm something you previously thought.

Avoid talking about yourself all the time

Sometimes, you may be actively listening, but there’s a conversation on a double level. On the one hand, there’s what someone is telling you. On the other, your own experiences lead you to compare the other person’s situation with your own.

To listen, it’s also important to pause your references or what you would do. “I once did this…” or “What I would do is…” are some common phrases. However, as soon as your own anecdotes or stories have become the protagonists, then you’ve distanced yourself from active and respectful listening.

Avoid opinions or judgments when practicing active listening skills

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of listening and being attentive rather than forming an opinion and imposing it. If you are attentive to the content of the talk, you’ll know if it is necessary to make a suggestion. However, don’t think about it beforehand and offer it prematurely.

Suspend listening because a topic is uninteresting or difficult

Many times, your mind wanders because you do not understand the story. In that case, it’s better to ask for information and clarify that you are having difficulty, rather than pretending to understand. It’s also a mistake to just pay attention to the details and miss the main point.

The characteristics of active listening

La escucha activa no es fácil de realizar
Putting yourself in the other person’s place is fundamental to good active listening.

Active listening is not simply hearing – it’s much more than “background noise”, it’s being and giving of yourself. Some of the main characteristics are:

  • It involves paying attention, engaging in dialogue, and showing genuine interest. It involves eliminating and avoiding distractions of all kinds. Likewise, it doesn’t mean you only have to pay attention to people at all times. Just be aware of it and able to pick up the thread.
  • Not only that, but it also requires that you’re willing to be patient, to respect the person’s time to express themselves, and to share what is happening to them.
  • Active listening skills are not only about the verbal component, but also about its non-verbal correlate. Sometimes, it’s even more important to reinforce that you’re actually listening. For example, you can let someone know that you are following the conversation by using expressions or gestures that give an emotional tone to your response (frowning, holding your gaze, raising your eyebrows, some body movement, etc.).
  • It also involves creating a climate of trust and support, to encourage the other person to feel comfortable and want to express themselves.

Today, active listening skills are a bigger challenge than ever

Active listening is a skill that gets better with practice. However, in this day and age, the constant stimuli increasingly thwart it.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than a pleasant conversation in which you feel understood and supported. It’s important to learn to listen, not only to strengthen interpersonal relationships, but also to learn from others and avoid misunderstandings.

Active listening is a central component of emotional intelligence. To be an active listener is also to become more respectful and participate in more empathetic relationships.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.