Active listening takes us from hearing and waiting for our turn to reply to truly listening, forging connections and strengthening our relationships with others.
Tips from 'Very well mind' and 'Positive Psychology' - Here are a few steps on how to overcome your own thoughts or agenda and become an active and empathetic listener.
1. Make eye contact while the other person speaks. In general, you should aim for eye contact about 60% to 70% of the time while you are listening. Lean toward the other person, and nod your head occasionally. Avoid folding your arms as this signals that you are not listening.
2. Nonverbal involvement
Look at your counterpart instead of studying people passing by. Show your attention by nodding your head or raising your eyebrows. Make sounds that indicate attentiveness. Remember that even by listening, we are communicating non-verbally (Weger et al., 2010). Watch nonverbal behaviour to pick up on hidden meaning, in addition to listening to what is said. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and other behaviours can sometimes tell you more than words alone.
2. Pay attention to the speaker, not your own thoughts
Devote your whole attention to the speaker. Being mindful means being present in the moment and paying attention to what is happening right now (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). In a conversation, this means observing the speaker while they are sharing their story. Be aware of subtle changes in their voice, the words they use and the emotions they are experiencing. Try to truly understand the thought process of your conversation partner (Ucok, 2006).
3. Practice Non-Judgment
There is no need to agree or disagree with what is being said or evaluate the statements being made. Remember that offering your active presence is more important than having their deeper question answered (Rogers & Farson, 1957). A skillful active listener is able to simply receive the message without the need to judge or respond with their own opinion.
4. Tolerate silence
Resist the urge to fill moments of silence. There are different types of silence. Respecting quiet moments can a powerful tool for a deep conversation. It gives the speaker and receiver a chance to reflect and continue with this process. So often we rush to “fill” silence, right before someone has a breakthrough thought to share.
If you find silence difficult, you can encourage the person to continue by asking open questions such as “What do you make of this?” or “Tell me more about what happened.”
Paraphrasing is another powerful communication tool. Starting with sentences such as “Your experience was positive because you.....(repeat back what was said)” or repeating in your own words what you believe the other person said, are ways to show that you followed the conversation and understand. A recent study found that while paraphrasing does not necessarily make people feel understood, it does create a greater sense of closeness and intimacy in a conversation. This is a key part of building trust and possible friendships (Weger et al., 2010).
6. Ask questions
When you finally do respond, try to not simply hammer your own point or tell your story on the topic. Ask open questions such as “How do you feel about this?” , they are powerful tools to deepen a conversation and uncover hidden reasoning. (Weger et al., 2010). For example, if someone is sharing how they are sad about a lost pet, do not respond by talking about when this last happened to you. Instead, ask them a follow-up question to show that you care about their experience. Show your attentiveness using sentences such as “That sounds really challenging,” or in a happy update, “I hope you are impressed with yourself!” By showing respect in your response, you show the speaker that they are worthy of respect. The more you practice these tips, the entire process of active listening will feel more fluid.