10 Tips to Become a Great Active Listener

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 @ 8:45 AM

Have you ever been deeply engaged in conversation with someone, but fully lost the moment when the phone rang? Has an incoming text message pulled away your attention? Even worse, you remain undistracted, but manage to not hear, or even totally miss, what your spouse, boss, coworker, or friend said? We call that “passive” listening. Your ears may have registered the sounds and your mind processed the words as intelligible and distinguishable English words, but it barely impacted you.

Full participation in conversation requires patience and perseverance – not only to say what is right, but also to carefully listen, actively participate, and truly hear, and clearly understand what is being said. Whether a professional counselling situation, a business meeting, a job interview, or simply paying attention to your neighbor describing his weekend adventure, each requires careful, active listening. I practice the techniques of active listening daily in my professional life, my relationships, my work teams, or any context that benefits from better communication.

For those not familiar with active listening, let me offer a quick overview. Active listening is a core skill from the skill set of counsellors, psychologists, social workers, and others in the “helping” profession. The following insights provide a great resource for individuals wanting to carefully listen and understand others. It includes the following skills:

Tip 1: Mirroring
Do not just listen. Repeat back what has been said so you are sure you understood clearly. “Did I understand you to say...”

Tip 2: Summarizing
Repeat back the major points you just heard. “So, I think you just said these four points...”

Tip 3: Agreement
Offer back prompts that show you are listening. “Uh-huh... yeah...and then what happened next?” These comments are doubly effective when accompanied by nodding.

Tip 4: Interactive Feedback
Share your responses and evaluations. “Was that shocking for you when that happened?” “I don’t think that seems fair...”

Tip 5: Emotional Reflection
Help them communicate with you by putting feeling labels on what they are saying. “Did that make you feel happy? Energized? Fulfilled? It sounds like maybe that was offensive, hurtful, or bothersome to you? Did that anger you?”

Tip 6: Affirmation
Let the one communicating feel safe and validated in sharing their heart. “Thanks for sharing that with me. That was courageous of you to discuss that openly.”

Tip 7: Non-comparative Comments
Rather than rushing into your story by way of contrast or comparison, just keep listening and asking more questions. “Wow. Tell me more. Is there anything else about this?”

Tip 8: No Pat Answers
Your friends and family are not looking for a brush off or “quick fix” answer.

Avoid saying, “It’ll be alright, it’s all gonna work out, why stress? Don’t worry.” Cliché answers will not help.

Tip 9: Non-interruptive Dialogue
Your long pause tells the other person that you are interested, caring, and willing to hear more.

Tip 10: Non-verbal Listening Techniques
ƒ- Turn off, silence, or put away your phone
ƒ- Turn off the TV and minimize other background noise or distraction
- Literally, lean towards the one who is talking.
- ƒMake eye contact
ƒ- Let your face mirror what the person is saying (disgust, joy, disappointment)
- Nod in agreement when appropriate
- ƒAppropriate touching with family or dear friends can be thoughtful. For example, taking and holding their hand, patting, or holding the forearm, or shoulder shows tenderness for someone who is upset

Once you have actively listened, you will hear “highlighted” words or phrases that can be very significant to the conversation. Such words are emphasized, repeated, or they just stand out. When your friends and family members feel safe in talking to you because you genuinely listen and care, it is astounding what will come up to the surface – whether they are trying to share deep thoughts and ideas, or not. As you dig into the highlighted words, communication moves from shallow, passive interaction to deeper, more meaningful discussion.

(This excerpt is taken from "Could Questions Be the Answer?" - by Dr. Randy Johnson)