Most of us aren’t very good listeners. Between waiting to say what we want to say, putting up walls to protect ourselves, and getting distracted by things around us, it’s hard to sit down and really listen to someone. Sometimes, when you’re listening to someone, it’s all you can do not to jump in and give them all sorts of advice that they might not even be asking for. These are bad habits that most of us have. Fortunately, though, there’s a way you can improve your listening skills. Active Listening is one of those ways.
Active Listening, according to University of Colorado Boulder, is “a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding.” Doing it means consciously focusing your attention on the speaker and responding in a way that encourages further explanation and understanding. There are a few different methods to keep in mind when practicing active listening, like:
- Summarizing: This is just how it sounds! Summarizing is taking parts of someone’s talking points and repeating them back to them.
Speaker: I’m really worried about finals coming up. I’m so stressed, I’m barely sleeping, I’m barely eating. If I fail one, it might bring my GPA down enough to lose my scholarship. I can’t afford to pay for college by myself! I’d have to move back in with my parents or something. That would be so embarrassing. And I don’t even know what I would do for work. No one’s hiring people without a college degree for anything about minimum wage. I could barely afford to live, much less pay for college. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I fail.
Listener: It sounds like you’re worried that your whole life will fall apart if you fail.
- Reflecting feelings: This is listening for tone of voice and certain phrases that indicate a feeling and naming that feeling for them.
Speaker: I can’t wait for my vacation! It’s going to be so amazing, and I have so much stuff planned that I’m not even going to have time to do it all. I don’t care though, I’m just going to see as much as I possibly can. England, here I come!
Listener: Wow, you sound really excited!
- Putting yourself in their shoes: This is imagining yourself in the situation they are describing and telling them how you might feel in their situation.
Speaker: I’m just really lonely lately. I moved over here for my job, but I don’t know anyone here. I don’t really have time to go out and meet people, and the people at work aren’t that friendly. No one really hangs out with each other outside of work. My whole family is back in Colorado too.
Listener: I’m imagining myself in that situation, and I would feel really lonely too. I might feel a little helpless too, not knowing where to go to meet people.
- Open-ended questions: These are questions that encourage the speaker to describe their situation in greater detail rather than simply saying “yes” or “no.”
Speaker: I’m so in love with him, but I’m afraid to tell him.
Listener: What do you think might happen if you did tell him?
- Asking for clarification/confirmation: This is simply asking things like “am I understanding you right?” to make sure that you are hearing things correctly.
Speaker: She told me that she needed me to work on this other project, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about it. The first project is a lot more fun, and I really like my teammates. This one, not so much. I’m not looking forward to it at all.
Listener: You sound a little disappointed about the change, is that right?
As you can see, all of these techniques are all about understanding the speaker, encouraging the speaker to explain more, and letting them talk out what they are thinking. It’s not about giving advice or sharing your own experience. When you’re actively listening, you’re there to listen!
More about active listening here!