Listen Up: A Guide To Practice Attentive Listening Skills

Headphones sitting on a table to demonstrate attentive listening

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you’re pouring your heart out to someone, only to have them completely turn the focus of the conversation onto themself and making you realize they were not practicing attentive listening? Or perhaps you’ve been talking to a friend, and then they pull out their smartphone and start scrolling while you’re mid-sentence. Maybe you’ve asked a question in a work meeting and gotten an answer that hardly relates to the topic you were trying to discover more about.

All of these situations are frustrating, particularly when we find ourselves on the receiving end of poor attentive listening. However, it’s entirely possible that you’ve also been the one practicing the poor listening in the past.

It happens to everyone every now and then. Maybe we’re so burned out and worried about what’s happening in our own lives that we feel like we can’t fully concentrate on the other person. Perhaps we’re just not in the right mindset.

Still, it’s important to be cognizant of when you’re simply hearing and not actually listening. And, in an effort to maintain the integrity of the relationship with the person that’s speaking to you, it’s necessary to have a few ideas for practicing better attentive listening in the future.

Here are a few of my best tips.

1. Set Yourself Up For Listening Success

A great place to start when trying to listen better is taking active steps to ensure that you aren’t distracted and are fully paying attention. A few physical ways to achieve this are to make eye contact, sit or stand fully facing the speaker, and make an effort to lean in every now and then, all as you’re able. Maintain a body posture that is open. For instance, folding your arms can say that you’re closed off (for more ideas on how to physically embody listening, the Global Listening Center is a great resource).

Not only do these show the person talking that you’re actively engaged with what they’re saying, they also help you listen better. By making sure that you’re in the best possible position to practice this attentive listening, you are essentially eliminating some of the barriers that may have previously existed.

Therefore, you’re taking an active stance in making sure you’re being attentive.

2. Leave Any Judgements or Preconceptions Behind

When someone asks to speak with you, a whole host of ideas about what the conversation might be about may rush through your head. Or, when someone touches on a specific topic, it could strike a nerve with you, taking your focus off of the speaker and onto your own thoughts.

If this happens while you’re listening to someone, it’s important to take notice of it and actively turn those thoughts off. If you allow yourself to continue down your thought spiral while the other person is talking, you’ll soon realize that you have no idea what they were saying.

These types of internal distractions, while common, inhibit attentive listening. If you can make a quick mental note that whatever the other person said struck a chord with you, you can go back to attentively listening to the other person while saving that thought for later when it’s time for you to speak, or to explore on your own after the conversation has ended.

3. Remove Any Distractions

If you know getting notifications on your phone throughout the course of the conversation will distract you and inhibit your listening capabilities, consider turning it off or leaving it in another room. If you’re in a place where people could potentially interrupt the speaker, perhaps you can go somewhere a bit quieter if each person is comfortable with this.

It’s easy to become consumed with the business that comes along with our day-to-day lives. We’re all so accustomed to multitasking, it can feel strange to only focus on one thing at a given time.

Still, it’s so important that when you’re trying to listen to someone, you eliminate or at least minimize distractions. This will help you hear and fully comprehend what the other person is saying to you without any added complications.

4. Avoid Trying To Plan Answers in Advance

If someone tells you that they want to talk about a difficulty they’re having at work before the conversation even begins, it can be tempting to start planning advice based on what you think they’re going to say.

However, in doing so, you’ve effectively removed yourself from the conversation before it has even begun. 

If you’re thinking about what you want to say next and how you want to say it, you’re not attentively listening to what the other person is saying. You may find that the answer you’ve been planning isn’t relevant to the situation, making the other person feel disconnected from you.

Remember that it’s fine to take a pause when the other person stops talking and has asked you for your thoughts. That way, you’re able to focus on listening when appropriate and on a thoughtful response when there is no new information being shared. This will show more thoughtfulness and authenticity on your end.

To Conclude

Attentive listening is imperative when building relationships and connections. While it may sound like it should be a natural skill, that’s not always the case. Some individuals have to practice attentive listening over and over again in order to get better. Hopefully, these ideas will help as you develop your own listening skills.

If you could use more advice on how to practice attentive listening in your life and workplace, I’d be happy to help out. We can discuss your current listening habits and how to take active steps at continuous growth. Get in touch to schedule a meeting.