The Skill of Active Listening

The Skill of Active Listening

What is active listening and why is it important? Most of us have heard the term or even have learned the concept at some point. It is a skill that can be learned with practice for anyone, and a necessary skill for positive communication in any relationship. Active listening is making a conscious effort to hear and understand the words of another – It is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgment and advice.

As identified in an article from Topornycky and Golparian (2016), some key feature of active listening are:

  • Neutral and nonjudgmental
  • Patient (periods of silence are not “filled”)
  • Verbal and nonverbal feedback to show signs of listening (e.g., smiling, eye contact, leaning in, mirroring)
  • Asking questions
  • Reflecting back what is said
  • Asking for clarification
  • Summarizing

The basic attitude of active listening is trying to see the world from the other person’s eyes. You’re trying to convey to that person, “I understand what you are saying and also what you mean and how you feel.”  But, listening is not agreeing.  Listening to understand the other person’s point of view doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with them. It just makes it more possible to take it all in and then carefully share your own viewpoint, even if it‘s completely different.

Be willing and ready to listen.  No distractions: If you are distracted, it’s best to be open and honest about it. Ask if you can postpone the conversation to another time, or take a moment to get the distraction out of your way. Pretending to listen is not only very impolite; it also runs contrary to active listening and over time can damage relationships.

Tips on how to work on your skill of active listening:

1.Paraphrasing to enhance understanding

The first one is paraphrasing. If you do this correctly, you can express the feelings of the other person in your own words.  The best way to paraphrase is to try and repeat what you heard in your own words, showing that you understand and asking at the same time if you missed anything. You can always end with the question, “Did I get that correct?” Even if you aren’t 100% correct with a paraphrase, that’s OK. It signals to the other person to clarify even more, which results in greater understanding.

Paraphrasing also has an amazing side effect of giving the other person time to reflect and listen to their inner voice again more accurately. Think of yourself as a mirror, helping the other person to gain more clarity about their own situation. It’s a reflection of their messaging.

2. Removing certain phrases or comments from your communication

Working on your reactions in conversations is key. There are a couple of different phrases that sabotage the active listening process. The genesis of these phrases is generally wanting to fix or solve instating of listening:

• Giving advice: “I think you should…” “Why don‘t you…”
• One-upping: “That’s nothing, listen what happened to me…”
• Comforting: “It wasn’t your mistake; you tried your best…”
• Telling stories: “That reminds me of a time …”
• Cutting someone short: “Come on, just hang in there…”
• Pitying: “You poor…”
• Interrogating: “When did it begin?”
• Giving explanations: “I would have called, but…”
• Revising: “That‘s not how it went…”

3. Signalling that you are listening.

Finally, it’s really important to concentrate on the conversation and signal to your conversation partner that you are really listening. That means not fiddling around with other things, turning off the phone and closing down all other distractions.

Keeping eye contact and signalling that you following along with small signals like saying “Yes,” “okay”,“Hmm” and other phrases is helpful, as long as it happens in a natural way. Especially these days with an increase in remote work with video and phone calls, it is important to show that you are present.