A good speaker has to be a good listener. You will misinterpret a message if you are not attentive to what others are saying and will displease others if you cut in when someone else is talking. If you wish to communicate effectively with everyone, you must have good listening skills.
Listening is a behavior that is learned in childhood. Listening skills vary from person to person. Although it is impossible to listen to everyone with 100% attention at all times, you can learn to listen with intent. Listen without interrupting others, and listen to understand, not respond.
The fate of any relationship depends on the quality of listening.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is being attentive to what others are saying. This is an approach where you focus on what someone else is saying in order to understand their thoughts, intent, or position. The purpose of active listening is to make another person feel safe and valued in order to let them express themselves when there is something important to discuss.
When you practice active listening, you are allowing the other person to express his/her thoughts or letting him/her clarify or resolve a situation without passing any judgment or having any attachment. At the end of a conversation, you can identify what needs to be done in a scenario. For active listening,
- You may use various gestures or non-verbal sounds as a sign of paying attention to others’ speech without interrupting another person, permitting him/her to speak.
- You may paraphrase what someone else has said to eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding.
- You may ask open-ended questions instead of giving advice or making any type of statement.
- You put your thoughts, judgments, beliefs, or feelings aside to understand a speaker’s true emotions and accept as well as validate his/her emotions whenever it seems appropriate.
- You may ask the other person if he/she wants to have a conversation or wants to communicate something.
What is Reflective Listening?
In reflective listening, you paraphrase what your partner or another person has said to make a speaker feel that his/her statements are being heard and understood. Effective communication demands mutual understanding between the participants of the conversation. Reflective listening and active listening combined are necessary to cultivate mutual understanding in a conversation.
As a listener, you have to understand your partner (or another speaker) first in order to be understood. You have to keep your judgment and personal reactions aside to focus on the speaker which is not an easy task, as you may become defensive or may become eager to answer. To avoid any misunderstanding, you may use the following tips during reflective listening.
- Listen reflectively (with paraphrasing) when someone is being defensive during a conversation.
- Practice reflective listening (focus on a speaker’s words until you get it) without making it obvious.
- Try not to shift the focus of the conversation to what you think or believe.
- Use some neutral phrases during the conversation whenever it is necessary to show compassion or understanding.
- Try to understand a speaker’s thoughts by mirroring the facts as well as what they think, feel, or want.
- Avoid the need to be right.
- Practice reflective listening until you fully understand a speaker.
- Express your views or thoughts once a speaker feels fully understood.
- Take the necessary actions once you reach an understanding.
How to Be a Good Listener
To become an attentive listener, you may follow these tips:
1. Be Present
You have to put all your attention on a speaker when having a conversation. For example,
- You may keep the cell phone in ‘silent’ mode to avoid interruption.
- You can use your body language to show interest in the conversation, such as maintaining eye contact with a speaker or leaning slightly forward.
- You can display that you are curious about the matter.
2. Don’t Jump to Give Advice
Sometimes, it is wise to resolve an issue by having a conversation instead of trying to ‘fix’ it. If you want to be a good listener, then you have to learn to find the right time to answer. In some scenarios, it is best for a listener not to respond at all. However, you have to show interest in the conversation through body language without taking the attention away from the speaker.
3. Don’t Listen Just to Respond
You cannot become a good listener if you keep thinking about how to react to something when having a conversation. When listening to a speaker, your main objective needs to be processing and understanding his/her thoughts instead of focusing on how to respond to a speaker’s words.
4. Don’t Have an Agenda
You have to start the conversation without having any expectations. A good listener will not steer the conversation purposefully in a direction of their choice, as they do not expect a particular outcome. If you want to be a good listener, then you have to let a speaker steer the interaction while responding based upon a speaker’s feelings at that moment.
5. Show Interest
To become a good listener, you have to be interested in what others have to say. Good listeners show genuine curiosity and do not ask questions in order to seem polite. They ask questions to find answers or to find out more about the speakers without seeming intrusive. Your partner (or anyone else) will be excited to talk to you if you show genuine interest.
Benefits of Good Listening in a Relationship
1. It Creates a Safe Space
Your partner (or someone close to you) may want to share their emotions with you or vent. In this case, it is essential to create a safe space for them and to let them express their thoughts instead of opening and trying to resolve an issue. You have to practice active listening and let a speaker talk through a problem. It enables a speaker to come to a solution on his/her own. Listening to your partner’s emotions, fears and feelings is a part of trust exercises for couples. Thus, you can ensure that your partner or friend does not feel like he/she is being steered towards a solution against their wish.
2. Improves Communication
Active listening can improve communication, as it enables you to focus on a speaker’s emotions and experiences instead of planning what to say next. Thus, your mind stays open during the conversation. You can understand a speaker better and can have effective communication.
3. Develops Respect
When you are attentive to a speaker, you are paying respect to their thoughts. You will have others’ respect when they receive it from you. Being attentive also shows that you value others’ opinions.
Becoming a good listener requires practice. This is a continuous process that usually changes depending on the situation, environment, or the person talking to you. Improved communication will improve your relationship with the partner or with other people in your life.
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