Updated: Sep 22
Some days I feel people do not understand what I am saying and other days, I can not understand them. Though I hear what they are saying I don’t retain the information or comprehend their perspective. Active listening is not a passive process, at times it can be challenging and it requires practice to get good at it.
The reason active listening is important is it allows us to develop a more well-rounded understanding of another person’s perspective, position, ideas, and vision which in turn broadens our scope of understanding. In turn, this strengthens our relationships with others.
Unfortunately, not all listening is of the same value and thus does not yield the same results. By understanding what benefits active living can bring as well as how to accomplish this, individuals have been able to transform their effectiveness and grow within their personal lives and careers.
Develop an Understanding
When engaged in active listing, we are trying to seek out information to fully understand what the other person trying to communicate. This in no way means you need to agree with the other person’s perspective or position. Instead, this is an opportunity to find out what precipitated and motivates the opinion or perspective that has been presented. Taking the extra time to fully understand someone’s perspective will allow a stronger foundation to formulate better solutions for resolving problems.
Sometimes there is no solution, instead, the individual needs to feel they have been heard. Not all issues need to be resolved or can be resolved by the person on the receiving end. When this occurs it is important to ask questions, without judgment, in order to assist in diffusing the conflict by acknowledging what the other person is saying.
As we gain an understanding of the background thoughts and motivations, we will more accurately predict how they will react to different situations. This information can help guide our actions, approaches, and interactions in a way that sets both parties up for success.
Build a Relationship
In order to build a productive relationship, a person must feel both understood and valued. By genuinely seeking to understand the other person’s perspective, we lay the foundation of trust and mutual respect. The stronger our relationship becomes with someone, the more likely they will be to help work through issues when they arise. This allows for a more productive and beneficial relationship for both parties.
One of the addressed benefits of listening to someone is that once you do, they will typically be more receptive to listing to you. Once a person feels heard and acknowledged they are less likely to become defensive, yell and talk over you. Please remember, this does not mean that you will now convince them that your position is correct. It will, however, afford you the opportunity to delve deeper into why you think or feel the way you do on a subject. This will assist them in gaining an insight into your perspective, which, even if it does not change their position, can start building a bridge towards a common goal.
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” –Bryant H. McGill
Build Empathy and Emotion Intelligence
Empathy involves the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Though we do not need to agree with a person’s viewpoints, being able to see things from their perspective will allow the ability to relate to he another person. This is about hearing more than the words, this is about immersing yourself in someone else’s experiences and having compassion and understanding for them.
As we listen to people’s stories we are able to learn how they react in different situations and what their triggers and barriers are. By acknowledging these and monitoring our behaviors and words around others, we can act as leaders creating an environment that encourages everyone to perform at their best.
So how do we accomplish this? How does one actively listen?
Listen without Judgement
Be conscious of your reactions and body language. If you can not hold back an emotion or facial expression, especially if you get called out on it, it needs to be explained. Help the other person gain an understanding of my you reacted that way.
If you are confused or find yourself getting upset, ask questions for clarification. This must be done out of curiosity, so the tone of each must be inquisitive and not accusatory or degrading. Some questions you could ask are;
Why is that important?
What experiences have you had that led you to that opinion?
What impact has this had on you?
Where did this view begin to be formed?
What has influenced this view?
What was that like for you?
What concerns do you have about that?
What are your expectations?
Do you have any fear this is based on?
Is this meeting your needs?
The more we seek to understand as opposed to judge, the more forthcoming a person will be with information. At the end of the day, most people want to be heard and understand, build relationships and bonds with others, and feel accepted. Listening without judgment meets each of these desires.
Get Out of Your Head
As yourself – Am I listening or waiting for my turn to talk?
When we spend our time thinking about what to say back to the other person while they are talking, we are not able to listen to what they are saying. Though we may hear their words, our brain is unable to take in the same amount of information when it is performing a secondary task. Formulating a response also stops you from being curious and gaining an understanding.
Instead of thinking of a question ask it, and if it does not come out eloquently, rephrase or clarify. The more genuinely you want to understand someone, the easier they will be on you as they want you on their side.
If you are worried you will forget something you need to say, write it down. This will get it out of your head and allow you to refocus on the other person. When noticing the other person keeps bringing the same thing up, ask about it, or write it down to discuss once they are done talking. The more they mention it the more important it is, so it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper when this happens.
Repeat and Reframe What You Hear
Though it is a kind gesture to show you are listening by nodding, leaning in or saying things like “yes” and “I understand”; the only way to make sure someone knows you are truly listening is by being able to say back to them what you heard. There are a couple of different ways of doing this.
As an example, let’s take a person that says “It’s difficult for me to get here in the mornings”
The first method is to repeat back what they said, say as close to word for word as you can.
After this, it helps to ask a question to gain clarification.
“I heard you say it’s difficult to get here in the mornings, can you tell me more about what makes it challenging?”
Another approach is to reframe what you heard. This is when you take what they said and put it into your own words. You can ask if you heard them correctly, if so then ask a question.
“Getting here daily by 8 am is a challenge for you, did I understand that correctly”
When you are making these statements make sure you are not correcting the person, if you get it wrong they will correct you. You can do this with facts, positions, feelings, experiences, and emotions. As you reflect back and ask questions the layers of the issue/position will start to peel themselves back allowing you to gain an understanding of this person,
“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” –Diogenes
Active listening takes practice and the willingness to get it wrong. If we seek to be understood then we must also seek to understand others. It is a skill and effort that is mutually beneficial and will pay off in excess through your career and into all facets of your life. It is well worth the invested time and challenge.