The act of listening can be the most undervalued human skill. But in truth, it actually packs a lot of wallop if harnessed effectively. This is one skill that underpins all positive relationships. Without the ability to listen actively, relationships begin to deteriorate and then crumble.
I had a client who was a very good manager. In the company, she was an asset. She had underlings who did her biddings and she run the affairs of the institution well because it was easy to make the command and her people are expected to follow.
Yet, in the house, she wondered why it was not going as smoothly as she expected. Apparently, the children felt bossed around, treated like her employees. Consequently, they harbored ill feelings toward the mother and shut down their reception towards her. They became passive-aggressive, and the relationship suffered. They did not feel listened to.
Listening is the most fundamental and powerful way to connect with another person. It is different from hearing in as much as the latter only involves processing sound waves. Listening is more. You need to actively engage yourself in the conversation so that you are able to accurately receive and interpret the messages in the communication process.
Like other skills, it can be developed. Here are some tips on active listening. Try them and notice your empathy expand and your relationships blossom:
- Pay attention–It is the total giving of our time and our cognitive resources to the one we are talking with. Without attention, there would be no real listening. Without attention, there is no learning. Paying attention is a prerequisite for information to be processed in our working memories. Attention is being present, in the here and now.
- Provide feedback – Feedback can be verbal or nonverbal. Saying “ok”, “uhm”, or “yes”, “I see”, etc. are indicators that you are following the narrative of the speaker. Sitting relaxed, nodding your head, leaning forward, are examples of nonverbal gestures that show your interest toward the speaker.
- Paraphrase – Repeating what is spoken in your own words shows that you understand what is said; the context, dynamics, and nuances of what is shared.
- Ask questions – This can be open-ended or probing questions. Asking questions indicate that you are able to follow what is being said and that you want to know more. Asking questions effectively, another important skill, can facilitate openness and disclosure of more information. The more information you get, the better the understanding.
- Reflect feelings – There is more to words than just speech or narrative. Words carry meaning and are loaded with affect and feelings. As a listener, you need to be attuned to this. When appropriate affect is displayed, e.g. crying while relaying a loss of a love one, it is easier to decipher the magnitude of what is being said. But sometimes, we notice a dissonance between what is said and the accompanying behavior; i.e. happy story but crying behavior, then we can reflect this disparity to the person. That shows we are listening really well.
The effect of active listening to the speaker is tremendous. When one feels understood truly well, it brings about relief, integration, and healing. Especially in intimate relationships like in the family, the practice of active listening will enable family members to feel accepted, valued, and loved; the bedrock of a healthy and optimal psychological functioning.
The active listener enjoys the benefit of growth and maturity. To practice active listening requires a discipline that allows one to silence his own internal chatters, biases, prejudices, impulses, and tendencies in favor of another person. It is silencing one’s ego so that another one can flourish and be strengthened.
This may sound a cliché, but indeed having two ears and one mouth is nature’s way of showing us that we are built to listen more than talk because it is the way to understanding and growing up.
Now, are you listening?