Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around, Leo Buscaglia.
The human being is a social animal, and therefore interpersonal communication skills are vital to success in life, personally, romantically, and professionally. They include non-verbal communication, active listening, persuasive and effective dialogue with customers, partners, and colleagues, questioning and engaging with the world around us, silences, etc.
Authentic and active listening do not only project a positive image of ourselves, but also enrich our lives, avoid misunderstandings and therefore prevent many unnecessary conflicts in our relationships. In addition, the speaker feels that we are interested in what s/he is saying. In other words, we make others feel valued. We learn from new ideas, insights, and original observations, we get essential feedback for our performance, work, actions, and results. This all leads to smoother, more positive, and richer relationships.
However, our modern society is full of noises and distractions. Everything is top priority and urgent and work is for yesterday. It is not the best environment for active listening. We all see how people are constantly interrupted by questions, comments, and remarks, by mobile devices, messaging, and social media that overload them with too much information, advertising, propaganda, notifications, and superficial and banal communication. People get easily distracted and bored after just a few minutes of listening.
How to listen actively?
Keep silent, stop talking. It’s as simple as that, you need to pay attention to what other people are telling you. Listen quietly and attentively, avoid interrupting people, don’t respond too quickly, and make sure that your next point takes into account what they have just said, their ideas, arguments, and concerns.
Remove distractions and noise. Do not check your mobile phone, email account, social media, or messaging app. It is not the moment for watching television, playing videogames, or reading a newspaper either. Choose a suitable place where you can both speak comfortably. It should be an area without too much noise, distractions, and interruptions.
If you want to say something important and the other person is watching television, checking the mobile phone, or reading the news and s/he is “pretending to listen to you,” stop talking immediately. Ask him/her to stop doing what s/he is doing and listen to you, find another time where this person is available or have a better attitude or, as hard as it sounds, find another person who gives you the attention you deserve. You are worth it!, you deserve someone paying attention to what you have to say or if this is not possible, just say nothing at all!
Active listening is an essential part of empathy. As we listen, we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and begin to understand that person: his/her points of view, circumstances and history, needs, feelings, choices, and arguments.
Do not judge or criticise anyone. Forget your previous ideas, assumptions, and preconceived prejudices. Hold your tongue, keep your judgements and negative comments to yourself.
Show them that you care by listening, offering sympathy and understanding. You can use body language to show that you are listening: keep eye contact, smile, nod your head, lean towards the speaker, sit or stand close to him/her, etc. You should also use verbal cues and utterances to let them know that you are listening: “I see,” “Yes,” “I know,” “uh-huh,” “Right,” “Mmm,” etc.
Furthermore, ask them questions for clarification (“Could you explain better what do you mean by…”), encourage them to give more information and elaborate on what has already been said (“Go on, I’m all ears,” “Tell me more about it…,” “And then, what happened?”). Avoid awkward silence. Provide positive, affirmative feedback, paraphrase what they are telling you (“So what you are saying is…,” “So you are upset because…”) and ask if your understanding is correct (“Is that what you really mean?” “Did I get that right?”).