Proactive listening, more commonly known as active listening, is the intentional and conscious effort to listen for understanding. Proactive listeners not only remain silent and give attention to a speaker -- they use nonverbal gestures for engagement and feedback for message confirmation.
Stay Quiet and Make Eye Contact
The first basic elements of proactive listening involve taking a listening posture. In some cases, people don't listen well because they talk too much or think about what to say. A proactive listener makes an intentional effort to give the speaker time and attention, notes a Psychology Today article by nonverbal communication doctoral candidate Jeff Thompson. Making eye contact with the speaker is another proactive listening technique, as it shows respect and attention to the speaker, but also helps you as the listener to stay engaged with the message.
Lean In and Nod
Making assertive nonverbal movements and gestures distinguish proactive or active listening form reactive listening as well. Leaning in toward the speaker is one sign of proactive listening. This movement isn't intrusive or aggressive, it is just a simple maneuver to show interest and get closer to the message. Nodding your head after major points presented by the speaker is an important nonverbal gesture as well. This movement shows the speaker that you heard a statement, and that you recognize the point or agree with it.
Paraphrase for Confirmation
A major and often overlooked element of proactive listening is the feedback loop, according to speech communications expert Alissa Owsley. This step occurs immediately after the speaker has finished his message, when you paraphrase or summarize your understanding of the message. Doing so shows the speaker that you heard and understood her. It also enables the speaker to clarify any misunderstandings. This vital proactive technique helps protect against you taking action with a false premise, or you and the speaker having different interpretations after the communication.
Ask Follow-Up Questions
Additional technique that separates great proactive listeners from average or good ones is asking follow-up questions. In some cases, people leave gaps or uncertainties in their messages. A proactive listener doesn't just leave things up in the air. He asks questions to get more details or to address uncertainty about action steps. Asking good follow-up questions allows the listener to gain more insight into the speaker's perspective, pull out more useful information and ensure that intended messages that didn't come out in the original conversation are heard.
- BusinessDictionary.com: Active Listening
- Kela Associates: Developing Proactive Listening Skills
- Mind Tools: Active Listening
- University of Colorado: Active Listening
- Life at Leggett: The Effective Communicator: The Communication Loop
- Psychology Today: Active Listening Techniques of Hostage & Crisis Negotiators
- Photo Credit Jochen Sands/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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