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When it comes to getting the most out of lectures, effective listening is a crucial skill to have. But when else do you need to be opening your ears?

A recent Student Health 101 survey indicates that 50 percent of students just want to be listened to during times of distress. Sometimes what people need most is the opportunity to talk. So how can you demonstrate that you’re really hearing what other people say?

Listen Carefully

Active listening refers to the goal of truly understanding what someone says. Facilitating a conversation where the speaker feels heard is a crucial part of good communication. “Sometimes people are just waiting for their turns to speak,” says James D., a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “It feels like what you’re saying is just going in one ear and out the other.”

Dean M., a student at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada, suggests, “If you care about someone, show it.” Here are some basic techniques:

  • Allow silence in conversation so the speaker has time to reflect.
  • Ask open-ended questions. These lead to more descriptive answers, rather than just a “yes” or “no.”
  • Paraphrase the speaker’s words to show that you’re listening and to confirm that you understand what he or she is saying.
  • Summarize the conversation. This again serves as validation for the speaker and an opportunity to clarify anything you’ve misunderstood.

More active listening techniques

Active Listening Techniques

Nonverbal EncouragementPurpose
  • Let the speaker know you’re listening without the need to interrupt.
  • Provide silent validation of the speaker’s feelings.
Examples
  • Leaning in
  • Maintaining eye contact
ClarificationPurpose
  • Confirm the listener accurately understands what’s being said.
  • Offers the speaker an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.
Examples
  • “It sounds like you’re feeling…”
  • “What I hear you saying is…”
  • “…Am I understanding correctly?”
ParaphrasingPurpose
  • Demonstrates careful listening without parroting back what the speaker said.
  • Allows the speaker to hear what they’ve said. This may prompt clarification.
Examples
  • “So what I think I hear you saying is…”
  • “I understand that…”
  • “It seems like you…”
SummarizingPurpose
  • Pulls together the discussion’s main ideas.
  • Creates a shared basis for future discussion and/or action.
Examples
  • “It sounds like the main issues are…”
  • “The things you’d like to have happen are…”

What Your Body Says

In the recent Student Health 101 survey, 22 percent of respondents ranked eye contact as the most important part of a conversation. Sarah R., a senior at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, says, “I look directly at the person I’m talking to so he or she knows I’m paying attention.”

Professor Rex Campbell’s Leadership: Getting It Done, a manual for the University of Missouri in Columbia, suggests using the following body language:

  • Keep your posture open by uncrossing legs and arms.
  • Remove physical barriers between you and the speaker.
  • Lean toward the speaker (slightly) to display interest in what he or she is saying.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Nod silently to show agreement or encouragement.

Do you know how to read body language and facial expressions? Take a quiz.

Increase Understanding

You can practice this skill and achieve academic results at the same time.

Effective communication combines welcoming body language with active listening skills. Practicing these helps ensure that not only do the people you speak with feel heard, but also that you get the most from conversations.

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