Active listening is an invaluable and often overlooked skill not just within romantic relations, but within all of our interpersonal relationships. It is a core social skill, that once developed will allow you to avoid unnecessary animosity and build stronger connections with those in your life. Of course, there is a likelihood you may already engage in this process, albeit in a subconscious manner. But regardless of whether you do or you don’t, knowing the mechanics of how and why to execute these steps will only improve your ability to communicate.
What Does Active Listening Actually Mean in a Relationship?
Active listening is a skill that’s easy in theory, but difficult to master, as it involves detaching from your ego-mind that wants to respond to any and all things – when silence and/or patience may be the best course of action. You could also think of active listening as relating authentically to someone. You aren’t simply waiting for your turn to speak or to share what’s on your mind. Instead, you respond in kind to what’s actually being shared. Thus, employing empathy and forming a true relation to what’s being offered in the moment.
6 Key Skills of Active Listening
Active listening involves more than just listening to someone speak. When you’re listening, you’re connecting fully to what’s being said. You employ all of your senses, all while giving the person you’re listening to your full and undivided attention. Here are the six key skills you need to cultivate:
1. Pay Attention
First and foremost is the most fundamental of skills – attention. And it’s not quite as self-evident as you might believe. Everyone has their own definition of attention. But to truly pay attention to someone, means that you keep your body language neutral, you maintain eye contact, present a relaxed demeanour that encourages the person you’re with to know that they can share deeply and fully. However, this also means not cutting them off – even under the guise of a polite interjection – not finishing their sentences for them, or thinking more about your response while they’re speaking instead of what’s actually being said.
2. Withhold Judgement
The second tenet of listening is the way n which your process the information being presented. If you’re to give the best possible response, you can’t allow yourself to bring any prejudice or bias into the equation. You need to pitch the information within the context of the person who’s sharing the information. You need to come to the conversation with a clear mind, which is unaffected by what incidents or past history may have a bearing on the interaction if you allow it to become the sponsoring thought behind your response.
To reassure the person you’re engaged with you’re taking in everything they’re saying, although you don’t want to cut them off. However, periodically coming in to paraphrase what they’re saying at an appropriate time is recommended. Reflecting back at someone is a sign you’re on the same wavelength, but also that you’ve not simply checked out of the conversation and are fully aware of what’s being related to you. Some people aren’t used to being listening to so deeply, and may feel disconcerted if this is their first time. Reflecting allows you to build this bridge for them to begin trusting in you and building their own sense of self-worth – that they are worth of being listened to…
Gaining clarity is something that will also need to be employed to gain the full spectrum of what’s being offered. There may be times when you’re listening to a narrative that appears to have multiple holes or inconsistencies within it. And it’s at these times when your awareness of what’s being said truly pays dividends. It will not only allow you to unearth vital information that’s been airbrushed out of the story, but it’s also another mode of reassurance that you’re actually listening. Gaining clarity can be as simple as asking, ‘what do you mean by that?’ Or, ‘Can you describe [insert subject] in more detail please?’ Again choosing an appropriate moment in the conversation is key. You even want to save these points for the end of the conversation to avoid interrupting their flow.
This is an extension of reflecting back at someone. If reflecting is the micro, then summarising is the macro equivalent. Here, you’re looking to pull together individual thread and tie them together contextually to offer the theme of what’s being said. You might offer a response such as. ‘Let me just check that I’m hearing you correctly…’ This can be then followed up with your summary of what’s being shared.
Finally, you’ve completely understood the person’s perspective, you can then begin to introduce your own ideas, suggestions and feelings into the conversation. You might relate how you felt in relation to a particular confrontation, disagreement or altercation that you were both involved in that you’re now trying to resolve. From here, once the key points have been laid out, you can then shift the focus to one of problem-solving.
The Benefits of Active Listening
Relationships: Active listening allows you to let go of the ‘me centric’ mode of thinking and place yourself in someone else’s shoes, so you can only not empathise with them, but also endeavour to help you both come to a satisfying resolve any trauma you may both be involved in.
Work: In work environments, active listening can be especially helpful in you’re in a position of authority, but also be a great aid in helping you talk to other colleagues and work together instead of against one another.
Social Situations: Active listening can be a great benefit the meeting new people. It let’s them know that you value what they have to share. It will also develop trust and will make them more receptive to hearing what you have to say.