How many of us feel that when we have a conversation, we never really hear what the other person is saying? Or feel that we ourselves are not being heard? So many of us fall into the pattern of talking at each other, waiting for the other person to finish talking so we can share our thoughts rather than really listening to and being engaged with the other person and what they are wanting to share with us. It’s a habit I’m all too familiar with and I know that it’s something I constantly need to work on. In a society that is so loud, so overwhelming and craving the attention of someone who cares, it is such a rarity to be able to really listen to what people have to say, to listen to their stories and gain an insight into their lives and their experiences while also showing them value as a person worthy of being listened to. So while coping with the busyness and distractions of life, it’s so important to be able to sit back and take to time to actively listen to each other. Active listening is a phrase that I learnt a few years back when I was involved a community engagement project for young people. Active listening was a way for us to really engage with each other and the people we meet, to ask questions and to really be interested in what other people had to say and value their thoughts, stories and experiences. Many different models and ‘techniques’ have been developed to actively listen, however they all usually circle around the same ideas of being focused, taking in what is being said and then being open to asking questions. The points below are some great tips to keep in mind the next time you’re having a conversation with someone.
By giving your full attention to the person you’re listening to you’re able to show that you are there for them and that you are interested in what they have to say. It involves being physically present, such as using appropriate eye contact and having open body language, but also being mentally present. This involves putting aside any distracting thoughts, allowing yourself to listen fully to what’s being said before thinking of the next thing you’re going to say or ask and being aware of the other person's body language (because after all communication is 80% body language!). It’s also important to show that you are listening. This can be done through using facial expressions such as nodding and smiling as well as simply minimal encouragements like ‘Mmm’ and ‘Yes’.
Reflecting and Responding
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to not think too much about what you’re going to say or ask next, but to fully take in what is being said. To do this, we really need to take the time to process what is being said in order to respond appropriately. Silence is not the enemy, but an opportunity to reflect not only on what is being said, but also what is not being said. This will also give the opportunity to ask questions and to paraphrase or summarise what has been said, allowing for things to be clarified as well as the speaker hearing their thoughts from a different perspective.
Giving Respect, not Judgement
Lastly, it’s really important to listen as an open book. Active Listening is about letting the other person share their thoughts and stories and valuing them as an individual. It’s not Active Listening to keep interrupting the speaker or to judge or enforce your own opinions without having walked the same path as the person you’re sitting across from. Through Active Listening we are not only able to show someone we care, but we can be privileged to know that someone trusts us with their thoughts, stories and experiences.