I don’t remember when I first heard the term Active Listening. It’s just there, a tool I picked up many years ago which didn’t seem all that significant at the time.
It’s used by counsellors and therapists, but can benefit everyone! Anyone who practises this will probably agree, it is a very useful tool to have in your box.
Listening is something I do well. Verbal and non verbal communication. We use it every day, no matter who we are.
I believe people tend to come into your life for a reason.
It seems so apt now I think of it, that Lord Geekus, a man with zero listening skills came into my life.
Listening has always been something he struggled with, it had become a personality trait almost. He was notorious among friends.
One night, not very long ago, Lord Geekus was speculating on his listening skills problem while I was trying to get to sleep. I was tired and honestly didn’t think I had anything new to add to his understanding.
Until…in one lightbulb moment, I turned slightly to talk to him, “Have you heard of Active Listening?” When I thought about asking this, my brain, still dealing with anxiety and self-doubt, instantly criticised. Of course he will have heard of it, he probably doesn’t use it, but that’s different. Is it really a tool anyway? Where did I learn about it? Gah. Instead of following these thoughts, I just asked.
And as it turned out, he hadn’t.
Active Listening, for any of you who don’t know, is exactly as it sounds. It’s recognising the difference between passively hearing what someone is saying, just because you are in their proximity, and listening, focusing on what message, what information that person is giving to you.
Over the next few days, Lord Geekus was…jubilant, pensive and a little resentful. Being unable to listen his entire life has given him been a cause of great frustration.
But it turned out he just didn’t have the right tools for the job. He was comparing himself to people who had figuratively been given Listening Steroids.
Our bodies and brains are capable of so much. But getting them to work together, having the brain discover and learn new tools to help these things are bodies do, like hearing, make us so much more.
It’s been about a month or so since this revelation and he is a changed man!
I have friends calling and commenting on how different he is. He enjoys listening to stories now, has appreciation much subtler personalities than before, remembering conversations, and is being so much more engaged!
It’s like the vibrancy of others lives are now being discovered, it’s wonderful!
To start, as a beginner, the easiest habit I advise getting into, is simply repeating what a person says in your mind. This keeps you focused and stops your mind wandering. It helps you keep track of information, and prevents you from just thinking about what you are going to say as a response before the person has finished.
Then, slowly try to introduce verbal cues, reassurances to the speaker that you are listening, and interested in what they are saying.
If they falter in their speech, just a little “Mmm mmm” or “I see…” can give encouragement.
Try to refrain at first from making any judgements or responses while they are talking. Interruptions are the worst.
As you get more experienced with this sort of listening, you can step it up a level and introduce summaries and check points.
To me these are essential. Its a way of making sure that your understanding of the conversation is what the speaker was trying to convey. Our own biases and experiences instantly affect our view of a situation, so before making judgements, check with your friend.
“Am I right in thinking that you…..” “So, you mean that you are….” “Does that mean that he….”
Just something to establish that you’ve listened to what they’ve said, to the extent that you can clarify points.
Once your comfortable with this, you’ll likely find you become more perceptive of people while they are talking. Things like body language, facial expressions, the how they are expressing themselves rather than just what they are saying. People communicate in so many different ways.
Soon enough, this way of listening will become second nature, in the same way your body picks up habits, like being able to drive, your brain will incorporate this method more seamlessly with enough practice.
To really listen when communicating with someone brings so many advantages! From lovers to staff, friends to wives, and everyone in between, it can open up so many branches if we really start listening to each other.
If you really listen to your wife asking you to hang up the washing, she won’t have to ask another three times and get mad and do it herself.
If you really listen to what your employee is saying when they ask for an extension on a project, perhaps you’ll see the real problem they are having and be able to assist.
If you really listen when your friend is talking about their problems at work, they will feel supported, and you may have information of use to them.
It makes me so happy that this has had such a profound effect on Lord Geekus. It’s a skill which is greatly undervalued.
I hope this helps anyone out there that is also struggling,
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