The Center for Creative Leadership offers a concise description of six important active listening skills. Here's a quick summary:
1. Pay attention: Avoid distractions such as cell phones and laptops. Avoid interrupting the speaker. Maintain eye contact. Watch for body language that might signal your approval, disapproval, anger, etc. Take notes if necessary, but be sure not to bury your head in your notepad. Don't start thinking through your response while the other person is speaking.
2. Withold judgment: Try to put aside your own pre-conceived notions or positions on the issues at hand. Don't jump to conclusions until you've heard the entire explanation/argument. Identify some of your own assumptions, and be sure to acknowledge that these presumptions might not be valid. Treat your beliefs as testable hypotheses rather than settled truths.
3. Reflect: Paraphrase what you have heard periodically, and ask if you have understood the other party correctly.
4. Clarify: Ask questions to elicit further explanation. Start with open-ended questions. Follow up with clarifying and/or probing questions. Generally, you should avoid questions that simply require a yes/no answer. Refrain from posing the leading question. Seek to understand what the other party is feeling, not simply what they are thinking or saying (strive for empathy).
5. Summarize: Synthesize what you have heard periodically, and ask for confirmation of your understanding. Seek consensus on key points for future action or follow-up.
6. Share: Having sought to understand the other party, you can now try to share your own ideas and perspectives.