5 Keys of Successful Active Listening

listenAre you really listening? While most people can hear, it takes skill and practice to really listen.

How often do you allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else is going on around you? Or plan your counter-argument before the other person even stops speaking? Or lose focus and allow your mind to wander, or think you already know what the other person is going to say, or dismiss what someone is saying because their opinion differs from yours?

On average, we remember 25-50 % of what we hear. Out of a 10 minute conversation with your child, loved one, or friend, you will probably only remember three to five minutes. You can increase this dramatically if you learn to actively listen – to really listen. Practicing active listening with your family improves your communication, connectivity, and creativity.

These are the five key steps to active listening:

Pay Attention:

  • Look at the speaker directly
  • Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors
  • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language
  • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting

Show You are Listening:

  • Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognizing that-which-is-not-said also speaks loudly.
  • Nod occasionally
  • Smile and use other facial expressions
  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting

Provide Feedback:

  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.
  • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back.
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” or “Is this what you mean?”

Defer Judgement:

Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.

  • Allow the speaker to finish
  • Don’t interrupt with counterarguments
  • Don’t start planning your response until the other person has finished speaking
  • If you don’t  understand what the other person is saying, don’t assume or guess, ask for clarification
  • Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message
  • Be candid, open, and honest in your response

Respond Accordingly:

Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated. How you would like someone to treat you?

Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.

Listening actively is a way of saying to the speaker that you accept how they see the world. Here are some situations where active listening is critical:

  • Before you take action
  • Before you argue or criticize
  • When the other person has strong feelings or wants to discuss a problem
  • When you sense the other person is not verbalizing their problem successfully
  • When another person wants to sort out his feelings and thoughts
  • During a one-on-one conversation
  • When you encounter new ideas

Active listening can also be called conscious listening, it takes effort – especially if you are a natural debater like me. If you slow down and really listen to another person, you will also find you learn a lot about yourself as well.

For more posts on strengthening communication skills, please see the posts here.

How do you practice active listening in your family?

Posted in Communication.

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