Listening actively is one of the simplest ways to communicate effectively in all your relationships. While we tend to focus on the way we speak and what we say, sometimes it’s the way you listen that makes a more significant impact.
In fact, one of the defining qualities of great leaders is not how they move you with their words, but that they also give you the gift of their time and listen actively and attentively.
The difference between active and passive listening
Understanding the true meaning of active listening helps us come one step closer to inviting it into our daily practice.
Let’s learn about the differences:
When you listen to a lecture while jotting down notes or listen to your favorite podcast while driving, you’re practicing passive listening.
When you lend an ear to a friend who needs to vent, hearing them out without reacting or interrupting is also passive listening, and it might be just what they need in the moment!
But one-way communication doesn’t bode well in other settings, especially if a partner wants to discuss something significant.
Active listening is a more interactive mode of communication and requires you to respond to the other person. Instead of simply hearing someone out, make the effort to engage with what they’re saying in an effort to create dialogue about. For example, if your partner tells you they had a bad day you can respond by asking them if they want to talk about it. If they say yes, ask them if they just want to vent or if they want you to interact. This step ensures that both of you are trying to meet each other’s expectations and achieving fulfillment.
Sometimes—though not necessarily always—the aim is to find a solution to a particular problem. This requires you to reflect and refer to the things the person has said so you can be a soundboard for their ideas, thoughts, or feelings.
Essentially, you’re creating a space for the other person to be able to dig deeper into the subject in an effort to better understand it.
Why It Is Important to Be an Active Listener
This is a tool that comes in handy for people who want to practice greater empathy in their professions as well.
For example, healthcare workers who need to deliver triggering news can use it to be more present with their patients and their families and improve their bedside manner.
However, no matter what your field or profession, active listening can drastically improve your personal and professional relationships!
There is no doubt that it takes deliberate effort and time to practice the empathy and patience it requires to be a successful active listener. That being said, we hope to share the following steps with you to help so you can be an active listener, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
Don’t Multitask While Listening
Limit all your distractions and don’t text or take phone calls while the other person is talking to you. Being attentive is half the work, and if you get busy with other tasks, you won’t be able to engage by asking questions.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
After you settle in with the person and have made them feel comfortable, they can share their concerns.
Knowing how to respond is crucial to maintaining the flow of the conversation. Please don’t cut them off when they’re already in the middle of explaining, even if it’s only to ask for clarification.
Hold your thoughts and present them when they pause. That’s your opening to ask an informed question that helps them probe the topic further. Remember, you have to guide them to a place that is beneficial to produce a substantial takeaway.
Asking broad questions will help them explore a situation more fully. Questions that are open look like, “What are your concerns about this situation?”
Probing questions look like, “Can you elaborate on why this holds importance for you?”
Reflective questions look like, “How do you think we can approach this subject without invalidating your feelings?”
There are three degrees of active listening: repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting.
When repeating what they have said, you can ascertain that both of you are on the same page. Make sure you use exactly the same words they have so you don’t add your interpretation to it.
When paraphrasing, begin with saying, “Did you mean to say ….(insert paraphrasing)?”
When reflecting, “What I hear is that….(insert your interpretation in your own words)”
Offer a Summary and Then Ask If It Is Accurate
When the person is done explaining something at length, you can present an accurate summary of all the points they made. This will help you both recap everything that has been discussed so far and also bring you both clarity.
Ask them if they agree with the way you presented the information or if it could be framed better. This will help you understand the point from the other person’s perspective.
Sometimes—without meaning to do so—we project our own experiences or ideologies onto a discussion. When listening actively, the aim is to be outside of the conversation and understanding the situation from the other person’s experience and not your own.
Try not to make the discussion about yourself.
Listen With Your Body As Well
When you’re speaking to some people, especially empaths, keep in mind that they’re noticing your body language.
Not making eye contact, crossing your arms, or even looking away too often and not focusing entirely on the other person can deter them from opening up fully.
Make sure you turn your body toward the other person and ensure that you’re not invading their personal space. Some nonverbal cues include your posture, hand gestures, facial expressions, and the tone of your voice. If there are specific movements that you have no control over (such as a facial tic), you can let them know before the conversation.
For more information, explore the Tao Academy.