Active Listening is really important and you need to make sure you’re taking in what’s being spoken about and the participants know that you’re paying attention. This is why preparation prior to the meeting is important, to get into the right mind set!
Now, let’s have a look at 10 tips for active listening, video chat style.
Eye contact is an important part of face-to-face conversation. This might seem like a strange thing to mention when we are talking about video calls but making eye contact is important to making a connection. When you are looking directly into your camera it will appear to the other person or people that you are making direct eye contact. On that note, don’t be offended if your participants are seemingly not making eye contact. They will most likely look at wherever you are on the screen and depending on their device this may not be where their camera is so it can seem like they are looking away even though they are looking directly at you.
Too much eye contact can be intimidating, so try to adapt it to the situation you’re in and the preference of your group. Try breaking eye contact every five seconds or so, to ensure the group stays engaged, but comfortable. When you look away, looking to the side or up is better than looking down, which can seem like you might want to close the conversation. Check your posture to ensure it is open and avoid crossing your arms or legs, which can make you look ‘closed’ or defensive. Leaning slightly forward or sideways whilst sitting can show that you’re listening – as can a slight tilt of your head or resting your head on your hand.
Facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures can tell you just as much as what is being said in words.
Pay attention to what the other person is saying with their body language – are they smiling, for example, or are their arms crossed defensively, are they rubbing their eyes as if they’re tired or upset? Even on the phone or virtually, you can learn a lot from the other person’s voice, which might sound subdued or upbeat.
Being interrupted is frustrating for the other person – it gives the impression that you think you’re more important, or that you don’t have time for what they have to say. If you are naturally a quicker thinker or speaker, force yourself to slow down so that the other person can express themselves.
Remember, a pause or a few seconds of silence doesn’t mean that you have to jump in. Letting the other person speak will make it easier for you to understand their message, too.
Even interruptions that respond to something that they’ve said can be distracting if it means the conversation gets side-tracked from what they were trying to initially tell you. If this does happen, you can steer the conversation back on track and say something like “you were telling me about…xyz”.
If you start reacting emotionally to what’s being said, it can get in the way of listening to what is said next. Try to focus on listening and don’t assume that you know what’s going to be said next.
Just listen. Don’t start planning what to say next. You can’t listen and prepare what you’re going to say at the same time.
Nod your head, smile and make small noises like “yes” and “uh huh” “mm-hmm”, to show that you’re listening and encourage the speaker to continue. Don’t look at your watch, fidget or play with your hair or fingernails.
It’s not always easy, but lending a listening, supportive ear can be much more rewarding than telling someone what they should do. When someone has health problems is a time when they probably want to tell you how they’re feeling, and get things off their chest, rather than have lots of advice about what they should be doing. In other areas of life too, most people prefer to come to their own solutions. Add this to the fact that we’re not permitted to give advice and focus on the person’s feelings and keeping the conversation going rather than how you think you could help the situation.
If you’re finding it difficult to focus on what someone is saying, try repeating their words in your head as they say them – this helps to reinforce what they’re saying and help you to concentrate a little bit more. You could also try shutting out distractions like other conversations going on at the same time and definitely don’t look at your phone or around the room, it’s an easy way to take your attention away from the person who’s speaking.
Asking relevant questions can show that you’ve been listening and help to clarify what has been said.
If you’re not sure if you’ve understood correctly, wait until the speaker pauses and then say something like “Did you mean this …” Or “I’m not sure if I understood what you were saying about this… You should also use open questions where you can, like “How did that make you feel?” “What did you do next?”” What steps did you follow” …Asking open questions is an engaging way for the conversation to continue
Repeating what has been said really shows you’ve been paying attention, and allows the speaker to correct you if you haven’t understood them
Sometimes reflecting, or repeating what has been said, can help convey that you understand what somebody is saying. It might seem a little bit awkward at first, but it really does show you’ve been paying attention!
If you’re not sure how to do this, try starting a sentence with: “Sounds like you are saying this…” or “From what I understand or what I heard, you are going through this…”
Old habits are really hard to break, so you’ll need to make a conscious effort to become an active listener. Try spending a week in which you summarise the main points or outcomes at the end of each conversation and it will help you get into the habit.