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Active Listening-Could it be the Secret Ingredient for Great Communication?

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Active Listening Makes a Difference

Do you ever get frustrated when you are trying to talk to someone, and they have that "look” that tells you they aren’t really listening? Do you find it frustrating when you are interrupted with your listener’s opinion before you have finished explaining something? What you are experiencing is the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who is not using active listening skills.

What is active listening?

Active listening is about really focusing on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. It’s an active process where you consciously listen to the speaker in order to understand their message. Active listening is a skill that we can develop to help us have better communications with the people in our lives.

Why should we listen actively?

Being an active listener helps lubricate communication whether it’s at work, at home or with friends. When you actively listen to someone, they feel heard and valued, and this builds trust. People may be more willing to share their true feelings when they feel heard. In fact, active listening can help diffuse conflicts, because we are seen as making an effort to fully understand the other person’s view, even if we don’t agree with it. Really listening can also help avoid those misunderstandings that fuel conflicts. You get what they are saying and the other person may be more willing to listen and therefore get what you are saying.

How to listen actively

  • When you listen, try to remain neutral about what the person is saying. Your goal is to understand them.

  • Allow time for the speaker to say what they want to say and to explore their thoughts and feelings. Pauses do not need to be filled in by you speaking.

  • Show you are listening through your non-verbal communication, such as eye contact, nodding, and mirroring the person’s facial expressions, and by verbal and “paraverbal” communications such as "I see," and “mm hmm.”

  • Ask clarifying questions such as "Do you mean...?" to make sure you understand what they are saying.

  • Paraphrase, or reflect back what you think they said to allow them to correct you if they need to.

Not always easy

If we are in an emotional state when we are communicating, with feelings like hurt or anger, we may not be able to listen to what the other person is saying. In these states, our more rational brain can shut down so we can't take in the information. The best thing to do if you find you are highly emotional during a conversation is to finish the conversation for now. If it's an important conversation, ask the person you're communicating with if you can come back to the conversation at another time, and commit to doing so. Then go somewhere where you can calm yourself down. We call this taking a "time out" and couples can find this particularly helpful.

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