Have you been in a conversation where someone is going on and on, not letting you get a word in edgewise? Of course — we all have. But conversations wouldn’t be like this if we’d just improve our active listening skills.
As coaches, we must master the art of active listening to be better communicators with our teams and clients. Trust us — your business, relationships, and clients will be better for it. Not sure how to be an active listener? Our guide will teach you how to practice this skill with tips and techniques to apply at your next client meeting.
What is the purpose of active listening?
Active listening is an essential conversational and social skill. It involves listening attentively to the speaker, taking the time to understand them, reflecting on what’s been said, and responding when necessary. This builds mutual trust and stronger relationships between us, our clients, and our coworkers.
Paying close attention throughout the listening process also helps us recall any important information more easily later. Nobody likes repeating themselves, so using this technique in day-to-day life, whether we’re speaking with a friend at dinner or family members at home, the speaker will appreciate our effort and attention.
How to actively listen: 5 strategies
Now that we understand the purpose of active listening, how can we put it into practice? Try these tips for excellent conversations:
- Pay attention. Effective communication happens when the listener focuses their full attention on listening. Don’t interrupt or cut the person off while they’re still speaking. Try not to fixate on what you're going to say next and instead, go with the flow of the conversation.
- Withhold judgment. We may have different life experiences, opinions, and points of view than our conversation partners. Instead of jumping to conclusions, give them the time to explain themselves. Keeping an open mind avoids unnecessary conflict and allows you to learn a new perspective.
- Be patient. The person speaking may take a while to get to their point, but if you’re actively listening, you can help move the conversation forward by asking clarifying questions and noticing the details of their story. The speaker will appreciate not being rushed. Plus, this patience helps you avoid missing out on important information.
- Observe body language. Face-to-face conversations involve both verbal and nonverbal communication. Things like eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, and posture help you get a clearer picture of the speaker’s thoughts and emotional state and respond accordingly. For example, if your client is fidgeting while speaking, you might reassure them that they’re doing well and shouldn’t be nervous.
- Make space for silence. Silence can sometimes be very awkward, so it’s normal for you to want to fill it. However, it’s rarely helpful to talk for the sake of talking — sometimes silence helps conversation partners be thoughtful in their next words. When you encounter periods of silence, take the time to reflect on the conversation so far and read the other person’s body language to get an idea of how they’re feeling.
Does actively listening involve talking?
A few active listening techniques involve talking, though many don’t. If words feel right, try these four communication tactics:
- Paraphrasing. This requires concisely re-stating what the speaker has already said in your own words. Paraphrasing demonstrates attention and interest and shows the speaker that you understood them.
- Verbalizing. Reflecting on and naming the speaker’s emotions and feelings shows you’ve noticed more than just their words, but the thoughts behind them.
- Clarifying. When you don’t quite grasp what the speaker said or could use more details, prod them with an open-ended question to avoid misunderstandings.
- Summarizing. Pulling together key points from the conversation helps everyone involved get a big-picture understanding of what was said. It allows you to consolidate and agree on the most important information to recall later.
What are the benefits of active listening?
Using active listening in our coaching sessions will boost the coach-client relationship, but we can also put it to good use in day-to-day social interactions. Mastering this soft skill helps us:
- Understand people better. By keeping our focus on the other person and combining the information we’re receiving from both verbal and nonverbal cues, we get a clear picture of not only the points being made but of the emotional context they’re speaking from. With a better understanding of their thoughts and feelings, we can respond with more empathy and thoughtfulness.
- Practice patience. Having great conversations is no easy task — we all slip up from time to time. We must extend the same grace we would want to receive to our conversation partners if they interrupt us or seem disinterested. Instead of lashing out, try to gently nudge them back on track.
- Improve our conversational skills. When we commit to active listening, we avoid falling into the many pitfalls of bad conversations. Conversations can be hard work, but active listening pushes us that much closer to being strong conversationalists.
- Retain information. The different active listening techniques improve our ability to take away valuable information from our discussions. We don’t want to be forgetting what was said — and if we’re paying close attention, we can dust off that information when we need it later.
Become a better conversationalist
Active listening has many benefits, especially for coaches. Once we’ve built up this toolkit, we can use our strategies for active listening to improve our relationships with clients, practice empathy and patience, and coach more effectively.
Looking for more ways to better connect with your clients? Practice has your back. Try our all-in-one client relationship management system to ensure no conversations fall through the cracks.