When was the last time you downed tools and fully engaged in listening? It is so easy to ‘fake’ listening; a nod here, a ‘yes’ there and you think you’re giving the speaker sufficient attention. I am as guilty of it as anyone else!
We need to strive to be in the present, to be in the moment and that requires us to give time where time is required or at the very least be assertive enough to say ‘can we do this later?’
Active listening requires us to hear what is being said not what we think is being said. For that to happen we need to listen first, seek for understanding – ask questions, repeat back our interpretation – and then deliver our input. Far too often we are responding without getting the full picture and speaking over the speaker.
The main benefit of active listening is that it stops us (or at the very least reduces us) from making assumptions and this, in turn, ensures we are not relating what is being said to an experience we have previously had; we are hearing it as it is being delivered, in the moment. Seriously, how many times has someone spoken to you and you’ve said ‘Oh yes that happened to me…’ and off you go on your own story. Now your story outcome might have nothing to do with the issue or message the speaker had in mind but they might be too polite (or fed up) to tell you.
So in order to give people the time they deserve when they want or need to be heard start by:
- Listening first! We have two ears and one mouth for a reason…
- Confirming your understanding. Let the person know you’ve heard and grasped the messaged OR
- Asking questions for clarification. When things seem unclear or you want to ensure you have received the information in the manner in which it was given, questions go a long way
- Empathising because it is never just about you and your point of view even when you ‘know’ you are right! Being able to see things from the other person’s point of view allows them to feel heard
- Remaining emotionally engaged – have a hug, find a kind word. Sometimes all the other person wants is to feel connected, part of something bigger than self. A hug can go a long way to making them feel better but always be certain that it is appropriate and welcomed
- Giving your opinion without expecting it to solve anything; opinions are great, they provide the person with another way of seeing things but don’t expect them to run with it and don’t be offended if they’re not partial to it.
When you take the time to listen to people, it demonstrates your ability to be supportive without having to resolve anything and it provides the other person with a safe place to express their thoughts and feelings.
Get into the habit of actively listening when people are talking to you (downing tools and giving eye contact) but courteously let them know if it’s not a convenient time; better that than to tune out!