Active Listening: Tips + Reflection Prompts

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you consider yourself an active listener? Do you find it easy to build rapport and understand where people are coming from?

Active listening is an important skill to facilitate effective communication and ingratiate yourself with others. When we actively listen, we listen not to respond, but to understand.

This article covers some active listening tips that you can start putting to practice right now.

The Basics of Active Listening

Active listening requires more than merely listening to someone. It includes:

  • Observing body language
  • Showing your attention with your own body language, such as making eye contact, nodding, or facing the person
  • Considering the underlying message of what’s being said
  • Asking clarifying questions

The main way people fall short of these techniques is focusing on speaking rather than listening. If you’re focused on talking in order to show your intelligence or knowledge, you may fail to listen to what people around you are saying. For example, this could happen if you’re thinking about something that you’d like to say instead of listening, or if you’re mentally arguing with what the person is saying instead of thinking about why they’re saying it.

To develop your active listening skills, be curious and show your interest in others by asking questions. The benefits of active listening include:

  • Understanding people on a deeper level. Asking questions helps you learn about people’s dreams and fears.
  • Building trust. Showing an interest in people’s lives and providing the space to share it creates trust.
  • Gaining popularity. People tend to like those who take an interest in them. Doing so will increase your popularity.
  • Reducing your stress. When you focus more on others’ interests, you think about your own troubles less, which can reduce stress.

Improving Listening Skills: A Photographer’s Story

Canfield once met a photographer from New York City who did photo shoots for a variety of clients. Frequently, clients were unhappy with the results, and they would ask the photographer to redo the photoshoot. The photographer’s impulse was usually to argue with the client about why they didn’t like the photos. After losing several clients, he started taking an active listening approach instead: When a client told him he needed to do it over, he’d agree, and ask clarifying questions such as, “I’m hearing you say that…Is that correct?” By considering clients’ feedback, he eventually produced work they liked.

Take Action: Ask Four Questions to Build Rapport

To start a relationship or strengthen an existing one, ask these four questions:

  1. In three years, what will you need to have done to feel happy?
  2. What risks or dangers will you face in the process of achieving that?
  3. What are the most promising opportunities at your disposal to achieve it?
  4. To seize those opportunities, what existing skills and strengths can you use? What skills will you have to develop?

Try writing the questions down and carrying them with you so you can use them. Consider using them with the following people:

  • Family or friends. This set of questions will help you learn about the person and feel closer to them. 
  • Potential business partners or contacts. If they’re not willing to answer the questions, then they may not make great contacts—they either don’t trust you enough to answer the questions, or they may not excel at planning their future.
  • Yourself. Write your own answers to the questions, and talk them over with someone. You might gain a clearer picture of your priorities and goals.
Active Listening: Tips + Reflection Prompts

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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