Conversations: The Missing Skill – Active Listening


Think about a time when you felt heard and when you were fully engaged in a conversation?  It’s not when someone is giving a great monologue (story) or when you’re busy thinking of the next witty thing to say.  It is when there is back and forth dialogue between the participants and both individuals are good listeners. The participants can tag the next person that it is their turn to talk by asking a question, making a comment or providing a compliment.  The tagger is interested in what the other person has to say, so they help the conversation along by giving signals that they would like the other person to comment on the topic.  This is when conversation is fun and interesting.


How can you show active listening?  Give the other person many different signals that you are interested in the conversation.  Use non-verbal responses such as; leaning in, changing one’s facial expression and head nodding along with body posture.  Use vocal and verbal skills such as saying; “yes, yes”, “mmmm”, “I agree”, “Tell me more” and other comments, questions and compliments.  Respond to the idea or fact that has been presented by the other person rather than just stating your own thoughts and opinions.  This is summarizing what the other person said and adding on new information.


How do you tag another person during conversation?  Provide a break in your verbalizations, look at the other person with expectancy (eye contact) and simply, wait a minute.  Silence does not necessarily kill conversation.  At other times, ask the other person a follow-up, open ended question, comment on what the other person just said or compliment them on their thoughts or other qualities.  Then wait again, to allow time for the other person to respond.


When do people seek help from a Speech Pathologist about conversational skills?  This is often related to the individual having difficulty with social interaction in high school, college and/or at work.  Sometimes we need to learn active listening skills to better our response from others such as when doing a formal presentation at work.  Sometimes people may merely need to practice, and/or learn, active listening skills to improve the delivery of a formal presentation at work.  You need to understand cues from the audience that provides the feedback and watch and actively listen to how others are responding.   Good conversations and presentations don’t start with talking; they start with listening.


What are some things that kill conversations?  We’d love to hear about your experiences! Please respond in the comment section below.

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