How To Listen Effectively

Listening effectively, in a way where the other person feels heard and understood is not the same as hearing. Our relationships and social interactions can be greatly improved by using Active Listening, the purpose of which is to Observe, Understand and Reflect.

Observe: If we really pay attention when someone is talking we may notice what they are saying (their story) and how they are saying it (their body language, choice of words, tone of voice, facial expressions, pace – which convey the feelings behind the story).

Understand: We might also notice how we feel while we are listening (empathy – imagining ourselves in their shoes and what that might feel like, judgement/non-judgement, or our own feelings in response to what the speaker is saying).

Reflect: Reflection is useful as it allows us to check our own understanding of what someone has said, it also lets the speaker know they have been heard. Useful ways to reflect are:

  • Paraphrasing – this is summarising in a few words what the speaker has said. It’s good to use their own words and include feeling words.

  • Clarifying this doesn’t mean that you can see the other person’s perspective more clearly than they can, it’s checking out whether you have understood correctly. It can also help if the person has glossed over something as it invites them to go into more detail, providing more understanding for them and you.

  • Single Word Reflection – we can let the speaker know we are still paying attention and not interrupt their flow by occasionally repeating back a single word they have used, especially feeling words.

  • Responding Without Judgement – saying things like, “Yes”, “Mmm”, “I see” etc can encourage the speaker to continue without feeling hurried or judged.

  • Summarising – picking up on the key points and letting the speaker know that even though you haven’t been speaking, you have taken in what they have said.

  • Reflecting Conflict – for example, “I hear that you’re so angry you want to walk away and also that you want to be with them”. Using “and” instead of “but” shows that you aren’t imposing your agenda or directing in any way.

  • Open Questions – asking questions which require more than a yes/no answer. For example, rather than saying, “Are you ok?” you could ask, “How are you?”. This gently encourages the speaker to keep going and open up rather than close down.

  • Paying Attention – without fidgeting, looking around or looking at your phone. Sometimes while making eye contact and paying close attention your facial expressions will mirror those of the speaker and this shows them you are really listening.

  • Putting Own Thoughts and Feelings to One Side – jumping in and saying, “that happened to me too” or, “That reminds me of…..” takes the focus off the speaker and shuts them down.

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