Active Listening: 6 Simple Steps to Productive Conversations

Some of the greatest conversationalists are those who actively listen to others. Leaders know this and make this part of their work life as well. They place great value on asking questions and then sealing their mouths closed as they listen to the answers that follow. They understand how to gather information from those answers to ask even more questions, ones that help them steer the conversation in a manner that is beneficial and meaningful for both.

Conversations by nature tend to be egocentric, where both parties vie for control. It’s in our nature to want to be heard and understood. We want a place to vent our thoughts and opinions with the goal of winning the attention and focus. We find ourselves conjuring up our next thoughts while the next person is working hard to be heard and understood. The result is a conversation where everyone is talking and no one is listening to what is truly being stated. 

Great Leaders are Active Listeners

Whether you are in a leadership role now or desire to be in such a position in the future, to be effective you must gain the respect of those who follow your guidance. Gaining this respect requires that people feel you care about them. Great conversations through active listening can help nurture this. Show them how much you care by validating their feelings and concerns through truly listening to them. 

Achieve More Success 

When leaders and employees engage in great conversations, they make great strides toward success. An atmosphere of congeniality takes shape and soon ideas emerge. They emerge because inputs evolve into healthy debates and people take action on the valuable insights gained.

To create a culture where inputs are valued, you need to nurture and massage dialogue in such a way where people feel safe to share their ideas. Great conversations like this can best be achieved through active listening.

Simple Steps to Great Conversations

Set a goal to learn something.

Everyone has the potential to add value by sharing concepts that challenge you. Program yourself to learn something from a conversation. Go into the dialogue with the mind of a student seeking knowledge. When you do this, you open up to focusing on the other person instead of getting your point across. The result is a conversation where the person feels valued and heard.

Ask someone a question and truly focus on their answer.

It’s in our nature to want to be heard. We want our ideas to rise to the top. But when we do this, we block the chance for better ideas to surface. To better engage, suppress the urge to think about your own ideas and focus intently on the person’s words.

Nurture the conversation with open-ended questions.

Help others form stronger ideas by guiding the conversation with open-ended questions that will help them think more broadly. For example, ask “What risks or rewards could result from that action?” or “what is your opinion on the new proposal?” Questions should guide people to answer fruitfully and not with just a “yes” or “no”.

Ask for more details.

Fuel the conversation further by taking that open-ended question into a new angle by asking for more details. Ask specific questions to understand and learn more, such as, “what was it like to be there?” or “tell me more about that.” 

Check your understanding by summarizing what you heard.

One of the best ways to encourage another person is to make them feel that what they’ve contributed to the conversation is important. A great way to do this is to summarize what the person has said. This will not only help you follow along better, but it will also help guide them to add a further meaningful explanation if necessary and make them realize you did get what they were saying. They’ll walk away from that conversation thinking you are a great conversationalist. 

Provide non-verbal feedback and encouragement.

Watch an interviewer or reporter interviewing someone on camera and you’ll witness the use of non-verbal encouragement to help the interviewee along. The same holds true with basic conversation. If the person you’re speaking with is nervous or challenged to get their point across, encourage them with a nod, smile, or a positive reaction to help them.

If you’re looking to take your career to the next level, consider one of our applied professional master’s or graduate certificate programs at UMBC. 

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