3 Powerful Tips to Excel at Active Listening and Relationship-Building

7 min read
A graphic of two heads facing each other symbolizing active listening.
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Active listening plays an important role in every leaders’ ability to build strong relationships within their team and wider network.

However, there is a huge technology-driven problem that stands in our way of successfully making these meaningful connections. That is that our minds are evolving in a way that makes them trained to be exceptionally receptive to interruptions and distracting signals.

Our brains become proficient in changing the subject, adjusting what we’re looking at or how we’re perceiving something. Simply because we hear a notification sound on our phone.

The scary part is that it doesn’t take very long for your brain to make this switch from active listening to a distracted demeanor.

Very often, in just five seconds we can lose interest in one thing and move on to the next. Disruptions are so prevalent that you might not even notice it happening.

With all of these interruptions, it becomes a real challenge to rewire your brain to hold its focus on one topic and successfully demonstrate active listening.

Active listening can be difficult if your brain is trained to react to disruptions.

The biggest issue is that many of us have been training our brains to not have to pay attention for long periods of time.  Having laser-like focus is a critical component of active listening and being perceived as somebody that truly cares by making people feel heard.

In this blog post, we aim to help you build some best practices around active listening to massively develop your relationship-building skills. Whether you’re preparing to attend an important networking event or wish to improve the productivity of your meetings, these 3 tips will help you develop the active listening skills necessary to drive you and your organization’s success.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a crucial interpersonal skill that forms the foundation of effective communication and relationship-building. 

Active listening is not just about hearing words; it’s about being fully engaged and present in a conversation. It involves understanding the spoken words and grasping the underlying emotions, intentions, and unspoken messages communicated.

When you actively listen, you create an environment where the speaker feels heard, valued, and respected. It creates meaningful connections and opens the door to productive conversations (and potentially even breakthrough opportunities).

So, let’s dive into 3 tips that will enhance your active listening skills and set you on a path to becoming a better communicator and leader …

Tip #1 Lead the Conversation Through Questions

In general, it is safe to say that if you take up less than 30% of the talking time in the meeting, then the other person will most likely report that the meeting was a good use of time. This is simply based on the fact that we, as humans, like hearing ourselves speak.

Even though you might only have a third of the time to bring some of your messages across, you will probably end up winning because you let the person share their thoughts.

The best way to have a great conversation that demonstrates active listening is to lead with questions. Some of the most important rules here are:

  1. Be genuine: Any question you ask, make sure you mean it.

You need to have a certain basic interest in it, an intrinsic excitement about asking that question. It should come across as being asked with authenticity, not just asked for the sake of entertaining or getting that person to talk.

The beautiful thing is that your interest is a decision that you can make. Many successful interactions are anchored on the mindset you bring to the table. You can choose to be excited about almost any kind of question you can come up with.

If you’re interested in learning more on how to adjust your mindset, check out the post I wrote on nailing network events.

When you ask a question, make sure you’re genuinely interested in the answer. Tweet this

  1. The question is the means to an end. Make sure you’re just as eager to hear the answer.

Being attentive to the answer is the biggest indicator of active listening, and absolutely necessary if you want someone to feel like they are being heard. You cannot just ask a question and then start daydreaming while the other person is giving you their answer.

A person’s response to your question is your opportunity to demonstrate your active listening skills and make a real connection. At the same time, it forces your mind to pay attention to what you’re hearing in response to the question you asked.

Tip #2 Show Them That You’re Listening

If you want to show a person that you’re truly actively listening to them, you have to keep your mind focused on the responses you’re getting.

Be able to make it a game to truly understand what the person is actually saying …

Focus with your eyes on the eyes of the other person. Observe not only the content you’re hearing, but look at their non-verbal cues for more insight.

Look at their facial expressions, body language and tone to see if you can identify certain aspects of the undercurrent of signals that might not be evident in the words alone.

Mastering this skill takes active listening to the next level, giving you an incredible potential to connect with people in a way that very few can.

Non-verbal cues help you be an intuitive listener. Tweet this

Most importantly, when you do this, your mind can get rather intrigued and excited about this goal of capturing everything the person is signaling because it is a real intellectual challenge. You’re forcing yourself to pick up on things you wouldn’t normally catch, and through that, increasing your active listening skills and eventually achieving mastery of reading this person completely.

The only way to achieve the goal of excelling at active listening are consistent exercises like this, so practice them in every interaction you have to continue developing and mastering this important, yet sadly underutilized, leadership skill.

Tip #3 Fire the Second Dart

This leads us nicely into my final active listening tip. You can guide the conversation and train yourself to actively listen at the same time by asking an intelligent followup question.

You should always ask questions in pairs. The first question gets the person started, but the second question is the one that should hit it home. We call this, “firing the second dart.”

If you want to deliver a really great second dart, you have to listen attentively to the person’s answer.

Not only are you conditioning yourself to listen, but having a followup question also increases the perception of being a good listener and making others feel heard.

Developing Your Active Listening Skills

When it comes to active listening, you won’t be perfect right out of the gate, especially if your mind is quite untrained. You’ll certainly encounter a few challenges.

You might initially catch yourself drifting away from what the person says on a regular basis. As you come across this, just accept it as something that is simply bound to happen and be okay with that until you really hone your active listening skills.

It is bound to happen, so you need to handle the situation skillfully when you become aware that you are not listening anymore. The most skillful response is to quickly accept that your thoughts ran away with you and tune back into the conversation as soon as possible.

Don’t panic and dwell on the fact that you stopped listening. If you feel you have missed something that you think might be very important, be comfortable in asking the individual to repeat what he or she said to make sure you got it right.

The road to mastering your active listening skills might be a bumpy one, but using some of these tips should help make it a smoother ride.

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