Are You an Active Listener?

Listening is an incredibly important part of communication and relationships. Without it, it's almost impossible to truly connect with, empathise and understand what others are going through, and if we can't do that, then it's most likely we're missing out on the support and encouragement relationships can bring.

When we fail to really listen to our friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends and others who are important to us, we can leave our relationships open to damage. Miscommunication is often the forerunner of unnecessary hurt and conflict. Have you ever found yourself upset because someone didn't listen to you or made you feel what you had to say wasn't important? We all want to be heard and valued, and that's why listening actively can be one of the most loving things we can do for others.

Active listening means not only understanding the words coming out of someone's mouth, but paying attention to their voice tones and body language as well. For example, someone who says 'I'm fine' with their arms folded is less likely to be telling the truth than someone who smiles and nods as they say it. Learning to pick up the 'signs' not only helps us to better communicate what we mean, but to also hear it better.

Active listening can help us find out the motives and intentions of others. By really paying attention, we can discover what's important to someone, what they're interested in, and even why they may be acting the way they are.

If you're constantly struggling with miscommunication, differences in opinion and communication break-downs, try some of these:

1) Ask yourself whether the person's words are matching up with their body language, and remember that body language is a more truthful expression of what we're thinking and feeling.

2) Paraphrase what the person is saying and/or clarify with a question. For example, 'So you didn't see him until Monday morning?', or, 'Was this after you went to the shops?'. This shows that you're not only hearing what the person is saying, but that you're interested in really understanding. 

3) Try to ask 'how' questions rather than 'why' questions. For example, asking someone 'why did you do that?' can sound critical, and the person may filter what they're sharing with you to avoid being censured. Instead, questions like, 'How did you feel about that?' and, 'How did that happen?' helps the speaker to explore their feelings without fear of judgement.

4) Wait until the speaker has said all they want to before giving them feedback. Interrupting them and/or telling them what you think before you have all the facts will only make them feel you're more interested in getting a result than truly empathising with them. More often then not, people don't want to know what to do straight away; they only want to feel validated. This doesn't mean we can't share our perspective and/or advice, particularly if we're invited to, but our main objective should always be to hear the other person out first. 

5) Take this McGraw-Hill test to find out what your current listening skill level is. You may be surprised!

Remember, how we listen has a huge impact on our ability to communicate well with others. In our day-to-day lives, it can be hard to find the time and energy to truly engage with our friends and family, but the rewards of doing so is almost always worth it.