Roughly 60% of the time we spend communicating is devoted to listening. Despite that, we only retain about 25% of what we are told.
Understanding comes from listening, truly listening. When listening goes beyond simply hearing and crosses over into understanding, that is called active listening. Active listening is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be practiced. Even if you’re a classic interruptor or an excited conversationalist, active listening is a skill you can build upon and learn.
An important characteristic of active listening is that it keeps you engaged in a positive way. When that happens, you can truly understand what someone is trying to communicate, instead of settling for what you think they are saying or what you want to hear.
Active listening allows your friends, family, and loved ones to feel heard, valued, and understood.
When it’s done poorly, active listening looks like the classic therapist trope of a client laying on a Freudian-style chaise lounge with a bespectacled therapist asking, “Now how does that make you feel?” While this may look like you're making an effort, more often it comes across as trying to check a box and move on.
What makes a good listener is genuinely paying attention. Asking clarifying questions to make sure you accurately understand the message being delivered—and not just getting caught up in the lexicon they use to get there—is a hallmark of good listeners.
Active listening helps us to build connection and trust among people we care about. It also builds our skills as listeners, helping us to increase our knowledge, to avoid missing critical information, and to identify and solve problems.
You know what they say: practice makes perfect. The key here is not to be hard on yourself, or to second-guess how you speak to those closest to you. It’s about practicing the skills needed to help grow your understanding and empathy towards those around you. And when you see the results, you’ll understand that they were well worth the effort.
6 Ways To Be A Better Active Listener:
1. Be attentive and present
Don’t get stuck in your own head or think about what you are going to say next. Stay present with what the person is saying now.
2. Avoid judgment and giving advice
Your job is to listen and validate, not to solve problems. Instead of offering advice, try paraphrasing what is being said to make sure you have a clear understanding.
3. Ask open-ended questions
Show your attentiveness by asking probing questions. This shows you’re engaged and interested.
4. Summarize and clarify
Don’t ignore what you don’t understand. Ask, “Is that what you mean?” to ensure that you’re correct.
5. Reflect the person’s feelings
Sometimes being attuned means holding space and tolerating silence, instead of succumbing to the urge to fill in those moments. Just be there. Putting feelings into words often helps a person see things more objectively as well.
6. Take turns sharing
Don’t try to “top” someone’s story with, “That reminds me of when I…” Just listen and wait for your turn.
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