Could you be a better listener? The answer, most definitely, is yes
Deeper connections, better conversations, an elevated level of understanding and healthier relationships can all be achieved through active listening.
Listening. We do it every day, but do we really hear? Be it in the workplace, with friends, or in your relationship, by passively listening we can make those around us feel unheard. Even more so, passive listening doesn’t allow us to have truly meaningful conversations.
Active listening, however, is a communication technique which gives a speaker your undivided attention. It’s a process of not only hearing what a person is saying, but also becoming attuned to their thoughts and feelings. Although this may seem like a common skill, active listening is rarely practised in everyday conversations.
Active listening emerged from research into what made an effective counsellor, beginning in the early 1940s. In 1957, psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson officially coined the term, presenting the method as one that “requires that we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us. More than that, we must convey to the speaker that we are seeing things from his point of view.”
Communications researchers Dr Christopher Gearhart and Dr Graham Bodie identified three key elements of active listening:
Cognitive processes: This involves your understanding and interpretation of the information you are receiving and requires your full attention to what is being conveyed, both explicitly and implicitly
Affective or emotional processes: This pertains to your being motivated and energised to engage in listening, and your ability to stay calm and compassionate and manage your reactions
Behavioural processes: These are the verbal and non-verbal signals you give to a speaker to assure them they are being heard and understood
Most people speak to be heard, and it’s incredibly frustrating to have a conversation where you feel someone is only half listening or acting uninterested. Deeper conversation leads to deeper connection, fostering meaningful, enriching relationships and greater levels of understanding – so why wouldn’t you want to give it a go?
Becoming a strong active listener is a lifetime endeavour, but even small steps towards improvement can make a big difference in your relationships. Try including some of the following practices when you are next in deep conversation with someone, and keep honing those listening skills.
Give your undivided attention
You can’t engage in active listening unless you are prepared to focus. Make sure there are no distractions and ensure you have the mental, physical and emotional capacity to engage. In conversation, note the non-verbal cues as well as what the speaker is saying. Make sure you are taking in all the information being conveyed, and not thinking about your response or letting your attention wander.
Show you’re listening
Allow the speaker to see that you’re completely attentive through verbal and non-verbal cues. Ensure your posture is open and inviting and consider how your body language can show you are paying attention, such as leaning in, nodding occasionally and smiling or reacting with appropriate facial expressions. Your verbal cues can be some simple ums and ahs.
You don’t need to weigh in to show that you’re listening, and interruptions can not only frustrate the speaker but also hinder your understanding. Exercise restraint and patience, allowing the speaker to finish.
Repeat back and ask questions
It is important to understand what is actually being said but our personal assumptions, judgements and beliefs can have an effect on what we hear. When it’s appropriate to interject, seek clarification to make sure you are understanding. Repeating back what’s been said or paraphrasing can be useful here. Ask open-ended questions that require more elaboration than a simple yes, no or other limited response.
Be appropriate in your response
You won’t reach a point of understanding if your response attacks or belittles the speaker. Keep your response judgement-free and empathise with them, imagining how you might feel in their shoes. Demonstrating an understanding of how they might be feeling can help them feel acknowledged and validated.