What Is Active Listening And How Can We Improve It?

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Job Interview, Senior Selection Committee Manager Asking QuestioWhat exactly is ‘active listening’ and why can it be so difficult at times?

As the term suggests, active listening skills can be developed, as it is a skill. Like any skill, it can improve with practice. But we have to see the benefits of active listening in order for us to take it seriously.

Active listening can be defined as ‘the concept of listening that keeps you engaged in a conversation in a positive way’.

That positivity is important, because as soon as the conversation becomes even slightly negative, we tend to have the habit of withdrawing or counteracting the concepts the other person has with ideas of our own.

What is Active Listening?

What does active listening look like?

Active listening has common features, including:

  • Being non-judgemental
  • Being curious
  • Patience
  • Asking questions
  • Reflecting back
  • Asking for clarification
  • Summarising the essence of a conversation

Why is it so important to display this skill, especially in a sales setting?

Well, it embodies the whole professionalism of a sales consultant, in that it shows how important you consider the views, ideas and concepts of the prospect or customer.

When we are listened to, we feel valued, important and have an increased self-esteem. Our internal ego is stroked, and we view the listener as a ‘good communicator’ even though they might not actually say very much.

What are the benefits of active listening?

  • We earn the trust of the other person
  • We understand the meaning behind the other person’s intent
  • We can offer support and empathy to the speaker
  • We dig deeper into the needs and wants of the speaker
  • We show respect for the speaker
  • We validate the speaker’s opinions
  • We can ask questions that clarify issues for us

Active listening exercises

What active listening exercises can we carry out?

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Keep eye contact with the other person. This send a positive message to the speaker that what they are saying is important and you are interested
  • Don’t interrupt. Nothing shouts louder that you’re not listening and are only interested in your own views than interrupting the other person
  • Don’t offer uninvited opinions or advice. This shows your listening mode is off and your self-mode is well and truly switched on!
  • Watch non-verbal behavioural cues. These are the gestures and subliminal messages the other person gives off in addition to what they actually say. It can give big clues as to how the person is really feeling
  • Slow down or stop your own self-talk. This is the voice inside your head which can drown out what the speaker is saying. It’s your unconscious biases, your subliminal judgements that interfere with your ability to listen actively
  • Ask questions for clarification. If there’s something you don’t quite get, ask for clarity, don’t just guess
  • Listen for meaning, not just facts. What could be the meaning behind what the person says? This deeper meaning will open up more opportunities for you when it’s your turn to share
  • Watch interviews on TV to see who and who doesn’t practice active listening. By watching people in panel shows or interview sessions, you pick up signals that show if they are or aren’t showing active listening skills. This will give evidence that you can become familiar with, and practice yourself

Active listening can be practised in social settings to give you the confidence and motivation to apply it in more formal meeting situations. If you find active listening difficult, look at what social anxieties you may experience or any problems you have with inattention.

Being self-aware could be the first step in improving your active listening skills. There are many books on interpersonal skills that you may benefit from. By improving your active listening skills, you improve your overall value as a great communicator.

We’ve got a Podcast On Active Listening if you’d like to download that. It will give you some great additional pointers.

To improve your active listening skills further, take a look at our Introduction To Selling Course which contains elements of active listening and much more.

Happy Selling!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training 

450 sales questions free report

Updated on: 9 April, 2019

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