7 Tips for Effective and Active Listening

7 Tips for effective and active listening

7 Tips for effective and active listening

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to share 7 tips for active and effective listening.

First a quick update:

 “Why do women seek fairytale endings and ‘Happily Ever After’?”
Why do women above men hope for the fairytale endings, and, can dreaming of finding Prince Charming be harmful for women and relationships? Read my responses and insights here.

Now, let’s talk about the seven tips for active and effective listening.

Active listening is the ability and skill of being able to understand what the person is saying or trying to communicate to you; this is the difference between hearing and listening: hearing is registering that a sound has occurred or words have been spoken, while listening is understanding & knowing how to interpret that sound or words spoken.

As I will explain active listening involves a level of empathy but is also different to empathetic listening.

All communication has an intention and it always involves an action i.e. the speaker wants the listener to do something; the speaker possibly wants the listener to change a behavior or to simply express an emotion in the moment (express empathy, concern, reassurance, acceptance, validation and so forth.) Accordingly, when listening, be aware that there is an intention behind the communication.

1. Decide you care/Focus/Open Heart
This is the most important step and component of active listening – the decision by you that you care about hearing and understanding what this person (speaker) has to say. Accordingly, you focus only on the speaker and what he/she says; you give him/her all of your attention, you remove all distractions and you begin with an open heart i.e. you are willing and intent to listen openly without an agenda and without first focusing on getting your point across or convincing the speaker of your argument.

2. Focus/Be Present
Many people use the phrase “Be Present” but struggle to clearly define it, and if one cannot define something, then one does not truly understand it. To “Be Present” means that all of your senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) are engaged in what is happening right now (without thought about the past or the future.)

When engaging in active listening, with the intention of being present, do the following:

  • Sit or stand squarely facing the speaker (this signifies giving all of your attention)
  • Open your posture (if sitting, place feet flat on the floor and arms resting in your laps – not crossed arms)
  • Lean towards the speaker (this reflects interest in the other person)
  • Maintain eye contact (this reflects sincerity to the speaker)
  • Relax (this allows you to listen and not react to what is being said)

3. Stop talking/Judging/Convincing
This is a challenging step:

  • Be quiet while someone else is speaking
  • Allow him/her to complete all of the sentences
  • Avoid thinking of counter arguments while the other person is speaking (you cannot listen and understand what is being said if you are simply waiting for the other person to finish their sentence so that you can present your counter argument)
  • Avoid judging – this requires you to not respond (verbally or non-verbally with extreme emotion); this is difficult if the speaker has done something that has resulted in hurt or an argument or, if it is your child whom has disobeyed or done something wrong – and yet, you also wish to learn of their full explanation

4. Paraphrase the message
By rephrasing in your own words the message of the speaker, you are indicating to him/her that you are trying to understand what is being said and you are determining if you are actually correctly understanding that message. Paraphrasing refers to restating the message in fewer and simpler words.

5. Clarify the message/Check perception
It is easy to misinterpret what is being said (the speaker might not be articulate or might not even be fully clear of what he/she is saying or trying to communicate.) This step of clarification is closely connected to paraphrasing but involves the words such as “I am slightly confused and want to make sure I fully understand you; let me state what I think you are trying to say and tell me if I am correct…” You might also ask for more information or examples of what the speaker is saying.

Additionally, you can ask for clarification of the message by confirming your perception of what is being said. For example, “You said you enjoy being with John and his friendship is important to you but you also find him clingy and suffocating. Is that what you are saying?”

Above, I stated to avoid judging and this implies not taking the speaker and his message personally, which, of course, is not an easy challenge, particularly if the speaker is talking about you. Accordingly, it is also okay for you to state “I find myself taking what you said personally; you stated that people that don’t call don’t care. Is that what you meant?”

6. Body language – communicate non-verbally
When two people are in complete synchronization, their postures will be mirror images of each other, check it out here. Depending on the tone and intention of a conversation – one person speaking while the other is listening, the mirror image may not necessarily occur. For example, a scared person speaking might cross their arms or hug themselves while the listener would not mirror that image; an angry person might lean forward with arms crossed or fingers pointing but again, the listener would not nor want to mirror that posture.

However, you can convey understanding and interest by your facial gestures and body language. As mentioned above, lean forward to express sincere interest, maintain eye-contact and; nod your head in time to what the person is saying.

Also become aware of the other person’s body language – what feeling and emotion are they conveying? Their words may not fully reflect what they are feeling at a deeper level, and this leads to the next point.

7. Express Empathy
Empathy refers to being able to feel what the other person feels; seeing the world through their eyes (even if it is for a moment or for one conversation.) Expressing empathy involves using the above steps of paraphrasing, clarification and perception-checking. The difference is that you now use the words “feel” and “because”: “So you feel hurt and rejected because I do not call on a daily basis; is that what you are saying?”

The listener’s empathy can also be expressed non-verbally by facial expression or even a gentle tough, caress or hug of the speaker when appropriate.

While empathy is involved in Active Listening, Empathetic Listening is quite different from Active Listening because Empathetic Listening places more emphasis on the feelings and the exploration of the deeper feelings of the speaker. It may also include the listener expressing compassion and reassurance.  For example, if an employee arrives late and explains that he./she was just involved in a car collision, Empathetic Listening would include an exploration of deeper feelings such as hurt, anxiety and fear as well as an expression of compassion versus a simple exploration of the facts coupled with a “Well, I am glad to hear you are okay.”

Finally, learning to be a great listener, an Active Listener, and an effective listener does take practice. Accordingly, choose to practice and master one at a time of the above seven steps.

In next week’s Success Newsletter, I will offer strategies to effective listening.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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