What Did You Say?
All About Active Listening
By Tara Lehman, Copyright 2018
Active Listening is key to any relationship, whether it be between husband and wife, parent and child, boss and employee, co-worker to co-worker or any other relationship or conversation with 2 or more people. So, what is it and why is it so important?
Active Listening is about being present in the current conversation without judgement but with true interest in what the speaking party is saying. It is about focusing on the speaker with both your ears and saving your one mouth for the appropriate time to speak or reply. As the great Epictetus a Philosopher once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we may listen more and talk less.” This is very important so that you can hear and listen to understand the speaker. While using your mouth to reply when needed but to reply to ensure you understand before making any decisions. For example, if I say I am going to have the report ready tomorrow, you may hear tomorrow and have a preconceived idea that means at 9am. I may mean tomorrow before we leave for the day at 4pm. If we don’t actively listen to understand, we have heard that the report will be ready tomorrow, but we have not fully understood what “tomorrow” actually means. If you are actively listening, you should not be making an assumption when that will be, nor should you have thoughts about how you will respond running through your mind while they talk (if you do, refocus on what they are saying). When they are done, use this time to confirm what time we can expect it, so you both fully understand what the speaker is trying to convey.
Active Listening, according to Mindset (Sweden), is about three things: Paying Attention, Showing that You Are Listening, and Providing Feedback. So how do you do these things?
• Remember you have two ears and one mouth
• Don’t let your mind wonder while the speaker is talking. Focus on what they are saying. If it starts to wonder, refocus.
• While they are speaking, don’t formulate a response in your mind at the same time. This means you are not listening to what they are saying if you are thinking of a response already. Your response should be formulated only after they are done talking
• Do not cut the speaker off as this can be interpreted as you not really being interested in what they have to say
• Use body language to show you are listening – i.e. nod, smile, look at them directly, don’t fiddle, don’t look at your phone, etc
• Ensure your posture, whether sitting or standing, is open and inviting – don’t cross your arms across your chest, for example, as this is seen as a closed posture
• Listen! Use the power of silence
• Ask questions if you do not fully understand – remember listen to understand and reply to be understood and to clarify or summarize what you heard
• Respond in a manner and tone you would expect from someone else
• Look the speaker in the eyes
• Summarize what they said how you have interpreted it to ensure you are getting their message. In the above example, perhaps ask: You mentioned you can have the report done tomorrow. Can you tell me what time tomorrow I can expect the report?
Active Listening takes practise and does not necessary come to everyone naturally or easily. If you are prone to cutting people off, you may need to start with recognizing you are doing this, apologize when you do and re-focus on what they are saying. If your mind starts to wonder or go through the long list of to do’s you have, while you are talking with someone, simply let the speaker know that you missed part of what they said, apologize, ask them to repeat while you focus and practice your Active Listening.
The next time you are in a conversation remember you have two ears and one mouth and use them appropriately – listen to understand their side or their perspective, then speak so they fully understand yours. You may not ever agree, but at least you can both appreciate the other’s point of view.