You may hear, but do you truly listen? Active listening is an important skill that few people possess. It is the art of allowing someone else to feel truly heard. In our busy modern lives, many of us are under more stress than ever. Too often, we find it hard to concentrate on what others are saying, and therefore struggle to give friends and family a place to vent their troubles.
The skill of active listening can build relationships by fostering strong bonds and communication. Active listening isn’t just setting aside a few minutes to allow someone else the chance to talk. It is about being willing to remain receptive to whatever the other person wants to say, and accepting their perspective without judgement.
A few tips for active listening are as follows:
1. Make good use of body language.
Lean forward, maintain eye contact with your conversation partner, do not fidget, and do not glance over to other people in the room. Have you ever spent time talking with a friend who keeps tapping their fingers on the table or twirling their hair around and around their fingers? You probably found it to be very irritating. Keep your hands still if possible so as not to distract your companion.
2. Put your phone away.
Checking your emails or messages every five minutes will signal to your friend that you are not truly listening, which will make them feel as though their presence is merely an inconvenience to you. We have all been in a meeting or conversation with someone who seems glued to an electronic device. It doesn’t feel very respectful when they nod absent-mindedly whilst tapping out a message, does it? Keep your phone zipped away in a bag or pocket.
3. Use gestures to encourage someone to keep talking.
People who use gestures carefully know how to make sure that their conversation partner feels truly heard. For example, a well-timed nod or small hand gesture can give someone else the confidence they need to carry on talking when otherwise they might have dried up.
4. Repeat the main points someone has said, using your own words, followed by “Have I understood you correctly?”
Have you ever been in a situation in which you just don’t feel as though someone is really grasping the meaning of whaever it is you are saying? It’s frustrating, but there is a simple way to check that you and another person are working within the same framework of meaning.
When someone has finished making a point, paraphrase it and ask whether you have understood them properly. This will convey that you have truly listened to, and understood, the other person. Of course, if you have misunderstood, they will then have a chance to correct you.
5. Do not interrupt.
Interrupting is one of the quickest ways to frustrate a conversation partner! It sounds simple, but if you want to instil confidence in your conversation partner, you cannot afford to interrupt them. If you are known to be a chronic interrupter, you could even make this exercise into a game – see how many minutes you can listen for without giving into the urge to speak.
6. Resist the urge to give advice.
Most of us will have been guilty of trying to tell someone else what to do. For example, if your friend tells you that their partner has cheated on them, your first response might be to shout “Dump them!” However, sometimes another person just wants someone to hear them out. Remind yourself that your primary gift to someone is not your advice but your time. Repeat this like a mantra in your head when you are tempted to chip in with unsolicited advice.
Follow these tips and you will soon gain a well-deserved reputation as someone who knows how to listen carefully and respectfully to those around them.