When you are communicating with someone, how often do you listen? Every time the other person talks, right? We spend about 70-80% of our day communicating and 55% of that time is dedicated to listening. The real question is, how often do you actively listen?
Study says we listen only with 25% efficiency. This means, most of the time we are either distracted, preoccupied with thoughts, or forgetful.
But how do you completely understand somebody when you don’t have your undivided attention to the person? You cannot. And mentoring is all about understanding your mentee. That’s why active listening is the key to successful mentoring.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a technique where you completely concentrate on what is being said and observe non-verbal cues like body language. You listen with all your senses without being judgemental. You show interest in the conversation by maintaining eye contact, nodding, saying words like ‘yes’, ‘okay’, or ‘I know', and more.
Though the ability to listen varies from person to person, reflective listening, as the American psychologist Dr. Carl Rogers called it, is a skill that can be developed through practice. The purpose of reflective listening is to acquire more information and understand people or situations before responding.
Dr. Richard Farson, a student of Dr. Rogers re-named it “Active Listening”, which was first introduced to the world by Dr. Thomas Gordon. Rogers and Farson described this kind of listening as “an important way to bring about changes in people.”
The Top 10 Active Listening Techniques
The list of reflective listening techniques contains several verbal and nonverbal signs of listening:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Demonstrating concern
- Leaning forward to show interest
- Asking for clarification
- Paraphrasing to show understanding
- Expressing verbal acknowledgement
- Asking open-ended questions
- Disclosing similar experiences
People who listen with complete attention are likely to show at least some of the above signs.
Also read: 5 Useful Tips For A First Time Mentor
The Importance of Active Listening in Mentoring
1. It Helps You Build Trust
Trust is the pillar of a mentoring relationship. If your mentee doesn’t trust you, they will be resistant to sharing their problems. It will become difficult for you both to maintain a good relationship.
Mindful listening involves techniques that show you are genuinely interested in the other person, understand them, and are empathetic to them. When someone feels that they are being listened to, they develop trust in you.
Here are some mindful listening tips that will help you with trust-building:
Stay in the moment
It’s easy to get distracted by thoughts or external factors when you are not talking. You think about the disturbing words your colleague said to you, the next meeting you have to run to, or the groceries you need to pick up on the way home. Sometimes you get a phone call that you need to answer or the person you “like” at work is talking to a friend on the other side of the door.
All these activities distract you from being completely present at the moment. Take notes and practice being mindful when your mentee is talking.
If you find it absolutely difficult to concentrate when your mentee is talking, try repeating their words in your mind. This will help you stay focused and get all the information.
Make sure you understand what your mentee is trying to communicate. Ask specific questions to get clarity and paraphrase what is being said to you. It enables you to reduce misunderstandings and reassure your mentee that you’re genuinely attempting to understand them. Empathetic listening is a key part of trust-building.
Wait till your mentee is finished talking before you ask questions or paraphrase.
It’s rude to interrupt when someone is talking to you. This conveys the message you are not genuinely interested in what the other person is saying, you want to jump to a conclusion and end the conversation.
It is an unacceptable way of communication. If your mentee feels that sharing their stories and challenges with you is not worthwhile, it’s something they will avoid.
Also read: How Important Mentoring Is in the Workplace?
2. Active Listening Helps You Identify Issues and Find Better Solutions
Do you know that non-verbal cues can communicate more than words? According to Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule, 7% of communication happens through words, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. This means, when your mentee speaks in, it’s not the words that express their feelings; most of it is communicated nonverbally.
If you are not mindful in the conversation with your mentee, you will miss out on a lot of valuable information that could be acquired otherwise. This can result in miscommunication and misunderstanding. You will not be able to precisely identify your mentee’s challenges. As a consequence, the solution you provide will not be very effective.
Reflective listening, on the other hand, allows you to understand your mentee completely- what they are trying to say, what they are going through, how they need help, and everything else. This, in turn, helps you to come up with a better solution for them.
3. It Helps You Defuse Conflicts
In a long-term relationship like mentoring, conflicts are sure to occur. You can't always be on the same page as your mentee. While you do not necessarily have to agree with them, it’s important to be open to different ideas and perspectives; and the best way to demonstrate that is through reflective listening.
When you are an active listener, you listen to whatever is on your mentee’s mind. You ask open-ended questions like “can you give an example of what you said?” or “how do you see the solution?” You are not in a hurry to express your ideas. You give the mentee a chance to speak out and describe all the facts. This way you understand your mentee’s point of view and minimize conflict.
Also read: What Skills Do You Need to Be a Mentor?
How to Be an Active Listener?
Active listening skills can be developed with time and practice. If you want to become a more mindful listener, practice the following:
1. Pay Attention
When someone is talking to you, pay complete attention to them and acknowledge the message.
- Put aside distractive thoughts
- Look at the speaker directly into the eyes
- Avoid external distractions like phone or side conversations
- Observe the speaker's body language
- Shut down your internal voice and keenness to respond
2. Show Interest
Use your body language to show that you are genuinely interested in the conversation and carefully listening to it.
- Express feeling through facial expressions like a smile
- Slightly lean towards the speaker
- Don’t keep your hand folded
- Encourage the speaker with small verbal comments “I see” and “yes”
3. Provide Feedback
Our personal judgments and beliefs can misinterpret what we hear. As an active listener, your job is to understand the speaker.
- Consider paraphrasing what is being said- “what I’m hearing is...”, “It sounds like you’re saying…”, etc.
- As questions to get clarity- “what do you mean when you say…”, “...is this what you mean?”, etc.
- Summarize the speaker at the end of a conversation
Like any other skills, mindful listening takes a while to develop. But now that you understand its importance, practice being an active listener to become a better mentor, a better communicator, and to develop better relationships.