We think effective communication has to do with talking, although it has much more to do with listening. Yet, it is surprising how rare and difficult it is to actively listen.
We think we are listening when we are really just waiting for the other person to take a breath so we can interject our response, analogy, defense, or anticipate what’s going to be said by filling in the blanks. Planning our own responses and anticipating when to jump in is not active listening.
People assume that the person talking has all the power. But it is really the person who listens who gains power through understanding what is actually being said.
The power and enjoyment that come from good conversation and a meeting of the minds involve listening attentively, similar to how jazz musicians have to really listen to each other to play great music together.
Active Listening Do’s
1. Be mindful, that is, be present, aware, and engaged;
2. Manage your emotions by exercising patience rather than being reactive and anticipating what will be said;
3. Have an open attitude as opposed to having a set opinion and set expectations; and
4. Consider the context of the speaker’s words as influenced by his or her own background and experience, so you don’t quibble over the idiosyncratic use of words.
Active Listening Don’ts
1. Do not interrupt and debate the speaker.
2. Do not tell the speaker what he or she should be thinking or feeling. That is simply a way of imposing your judgment on others.
3. Do not use his or her story as a take-off point for your own story.
4. Do not give advice unless and only when you are asked for it.
You can see that active listening takes effort and your full attention. The payoff is worth it, however. The benefit is that you can simultaneously enhance relationships AND increase understanding or solve problems.
Active listening is a pre-condition for empathy and equality — keys to enhancing a relationship. It requires focusing on the other person instead of yourself. When someone sees that you are really paying attention, he or she tends to feel more alive and become more animated in the conversation.
People feel more comfortable and open with a relaxed and attentive listener, rather than someone who is impatient, agitated, or highly controlled. Making positive encouraging eye contact without being distracted encourages the speaker to open up.
If appropriate you can repeat what you heard the speaker say and ask them whether you have understood them correctly. “It sounds like you’re discouraged about such and such. Is that right?”
Giving reflective feedback rather than advice can be very helpful because both parties become clearer about a situation, which is key in having a good conversation or a meeting of the minds.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD