Barbara Nixon said, “Listening is a hug you give with your mind.” Because it feels wonderful to be deeply heard. And yet active listening is not a skill we get taught. As a culture we value action – so we’re taught to communicate, to speak, to write and listening is SEEN as something passive, something we just do. But true, deep or active listening is most definitely an ACTION, and to do it well takes effort and concentration.
Think about it. When was the last time YOU felt deeply listened to? When you felt totally supported, heard, understood and seen? Accepted on all levels?
We think that to improve our communication we need to learn to speak more effectively. But deep, active listening leaves people feeling respected, valuable, important, loved – who’s not going to want to hang around with that person?
Anyone can give you a hug, but active listening is a skill. And when we’re distracted by what’s on our ‘to do’ list, what we’re going to say next or remembering a time when something similar happened to us – then we’re HEARING, not listening (however well intentioned we are). So, what is active listening?
Active listening means:
- Giving your FULL attention to the other person.
- Also noticing what is NOT being said, body language, facial expressions, their state of being.
- Eye contact and focused attention (yours – on them).
- NOT thinking what you will say next. Whether it’s sharing a piece of wisdom for them, a great idea of what to do next, something similar that happened (or is about to happen) to you or someone else.
- REFLECTING back to them what you hear/notice/see. “I’m hearing that you’re really frustrated right now/feeling neglected or excluded/you’re tired and stressed.”
- PATIENCE. You take the time to hear and understand their perspective with an open mind – remembering that their viewpoint and experience is equally valid.
- No JUDGING. When we judge what they are doing – even if we just think to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have done that” we are no longer listening. When we’re thinking what we would have done or would do – it’s hearing, not listening.
“Understanding and Love are interdependent. Love is made of Understanding and Understanding is made of Love.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Top Tip: If you decide to give active listening a go, remember it’s a skill to be developed. DON’T beat yourself up if you find your mind wandering to what’s for dinner or you find yourself saying, “you should do ______”. Once you’re beating yourself up – you’re definitely not listening any more. Simply notice that you’ve gone off track from the listening, “Oh – I’m thinking about my to do list”, or “Oh, I just gave them advice”. Take a deep breath – and then go back to practicing your active listening.
Active Listening is simpler than you think - because you don’t need to THINK. You just need to listen. Simple – but not necessarily easy! We confuse listening with hearing the words, but active listening is a practice – you could almost say it’s a spiritual practice. And it’s most definitely a skill – which means we need to work at it, practice and be prepared to make mistakes along the way. Just do your best.
IN SUMMARY: Active listening is guaranteed to improve your relationships, boost your business, earn you respect and love: Not only does it increase connection and intimacy in relationships but it’s also a fabulous gift to give others. And if we can do this for our children, loved ones, friends we model an important skill that they can absorb and pass on. We can literally change our world.
“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” David Oxberg
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