By Dale Isip

Communication is viewed as an increasingly important professional skill. In 2016, some 85 percent of U.S. adults ranked training in writing and communicating as a key to worker success.

Professional interactions, however, are about both conveying and receiving information, and the latter is where active listening skills are crucial. Here are some ways to hone active listening skills at work.

Goals of Active Listening

Active listening is the practice of giving your listening attention to a speaker, using that attention to understand the message and information given, and being able to comprehensively respond to that message with thoughtful consideration.

This differs from passive listening in that it is not a detached or inattentive activity where one only “hears” a speaker. Instead, active listening is an engaged process of understanding and communicative interaction.

The goals of active listening are to understand the speaker and their message. In turn, the active listener can also be understood by others. The active listener achieves this through focused engagement, paraphrasing statements, and thoughtful questions.

Focused Engagement

If you want to improve your active listening skills at work, make focused engagement a priority in your professional interactions. If this is an in-person interaction or video call, make sure you keep an open but attentive posture.

Maintain periodic eye contact to help the speaker know you are listening to them. Use other non-verbal cues, such as nodding gently after a speaker’s point is made. As you get a better sense of the information the speaker is trying to convey, you can begin using verbal cues such as saying “Yes”, or “I understand”.

Focused engagement is the first step to truly understanding a speaker’s point of view. This is because active listening not only involves the ears, but also body language and visual cues.

Paraphrasing Statements

You can further practice active listening at work through using paraphrasing statements. This is the practice of putting the speaker’s points into your own words. Through this, the speaker knows you are actively trying to understand their message.

You can begin such statements with the phrases “So what you are saying is,” or “So you are saying that”, and then continue to describe the issue as you understand it. If you are correct, the speaker will agree and continue. If you are wrong, do not worry, the speaker will correct you.

Thoughtful Questions

Ask thoughtful, open questions of the speaker to help them elaborate. Try to avoid “yes” or “no” questions. Instead, try to ask open-ended questions that focus on “what”, “how”, and “why”.

If you can, ask specific questions within the framework of the speaker’s issue. The question, “At what point of your day does your network usually slow down?”, for example, will help the speaker describe a computer issue on their terms.

Above all, be sure to display empathy through the active listening process. Through empathetic focused engagement, paraphrasing statements, and thoughtful questions, you will be able to hone your active listening skills at work.