How many times have you found yourself in a situation talking to someone only to realize they’ve drifted on to their own sweet planet? Or, observe your own mind distracted by a random thought when listening to someone?
Not too long ago, I was out on a date with a brilliant woman. She was beautiful, intelligent, driven by a purpose. But, I could never get myself to have a proper conversation with her. More often than not, I found myself repeating things over and over again. I was subjected to false assumptions connecting dots that had no relevance. And, as Thomas Leonard once said, “All problems exist in the absence of a good conversation.”
We, humans, being social animals engage in multiple conversations on a daily basis with our family members, friends, colleagues, and strangers. However, we never really listen as well as we can and we should. Our thoughts often distract us, and have replies already on the tip of our tongue even before the other person has finished speaking. We think we listen but, it’s more hearing the sounds than listening to what is being said.
Listening is the most helpful skill you can learn master. The art of listening strengthens your personal relationships and paves the way for a fulfilling professional career. Listening can help you build rapport, understanding, and trust with others around you.
So, let us start off by answering the obvious question first,
What is listening/active listening?
Active listening is a communication technique in which, you, the listener is required to have complete attention to understand what the other person is trying to say and reply in a way that establishes trust.
Seems simple, right? Concentrate. Understand. Respond. Right?
When listening to someone, the most important thing to do is to put aside your own personal bias and opinions. It’s important to realize that everyone has their own understanding of reality. How you react to an event/situation may not be precisely how the other person will. Listening is about having a larger perspective and perceiving how the other person sees it.
Mastering the art of listening isn’t something that will happen overnight. Like other skills, active listening requires patience and constant practice. However, the benefits of active listening can have in a workplace, in your relationships, and in helping someone battling mental illness are immense.
In A Workplace
- Enables better inter-team communication. When you start empowering your team members to become better listeners, you’ll observe a stark increase in inter-team coordination, better communication, and lower conflicts. When employees take time out to listen to suggestions, advice, and warnings, without feeling a sense of belittlement, every employee begins to flourish and grow, professionally as well as personally.
- New learnings and quick growth. “We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening.” If used correctly, listening can propel your career growth like no other. Being attentive and listening with complete concentration can help you learn more from people around you. Even during meetings, listening can help you better understand your tasks, understand the result that is needed, and the necessary blockers to be cautious of.
- Motivates and encourages employees. We feel good when we know someone is listening and understanding what we are trying to say. As a leader, listening to your employees can help them feel a sense of belonging, inspire commitment, and motivate them to reach their maximal potential.
- Better understanding. When you put active listening to practice, you go beyond the words that the person speaks. Active listening can help you appreciate the perspective of the other person and open lines for better communication. Also, examining their body language and posture can help you know how someone is feeling.
- Instils greater trust. At the heart of all relationships lie the feeling of love,. And love can only blossom when there is trust, respect, and care. When you actively listen to someone giving your complete concentration and without drawing any parallels from your opinions and experiences, the other person feels respected. This in turn breeds trust.
- Reduce, resolve & avoid conflicts. When there are understanding and trust in a relationship, it also opens doors to reduce, resolve, and avoid conflicts that might hurt the relationship.
In helping people diagnosed with mental illness
- Provide support and care. People diagnosed with mental illness generally have a difficult time opening up to someone and need to feel some level of comfort before opening up. Active listening is a helpful skill that can help provide support, care, and make the person feel lighter by making them feel comfortable and listened to.
- Helps put things in perspective. Given the stigma, it’s no surprise that most people tend to keep their experiences to themselves. Listening to them attentively can help you understand their perspective, and also help them see the same situation from a different perspective that we previously haven’t.
- Helps to sort through feelings. Many people feel listening to someone is difficult and time-consuming. While you do have to take time out to listen to someone, it really isn’t difficult. You aren’t supposed to have all the answers to the questions the person might have. All you need to do is listen without any prejudice. This allows the other person to speak about things that otherwise they wouldn’t have. Helping them talk can often make things less scary, and at least help them sort and understand their feelings better.
While that explains what is active listening and benefits of mastering this skill, as said, active listening needs to be practiced. Here are 4 active listening techniques that you should put in action to help you become a better listener.
- Remembering. According to studies, we only retain 25% to 50% of what we hear. When we choose to listen, we can recognize and remember the important points of the conversation. Recalling necessary details of a conversation can make the other person feel they’ve been listened to and encourage them to talk further.
- Reflecting. Reflecting/paraphrasing is an essential part of active listening. When listening to someone, reflecting on the necessary details of the conversation gives the other person the chance to hear their own thoughts in a different way. Reflecting also helps the other person become more aware of their feelings and help them feel they’ve been listened to and understood.
- Questioning. Ever since childhood when studying or learning something new we never used to hesitate from asking questions, because that is how we learn about things we don’t know about. Listening to someone else is no different. When faced with ambiguity or uncertainty of what the person is trying to say, it’s always better to ask questions to know if you’ve understood correctly. This is way better than assuming what the person is trying to convey.
- Summarizing. Summarizing is basically restating what the person has said in a concise manner. By summarizing, you let the other person know that you’ve listened to them attentively. And this adds to them feeling understood.
Practicing these techniques day after day will better your listening skills, however, there are still personal barriers you’ll have to overcome to perfect the skill of active listening.
- Daydreaming. It’s easy to be drifted away by your thoughts. However, when listening to someone, it’s of utmost importance to be attentive and be present in that moment. If you find your mind wandering and your listening affected, summarize all that you’ve listened till now, and ask them to continue from there.
- Ready replies. The biggest change you’ll observe when you start to listen is, you no longer have instant replies ready or have your next question ready. Because as the art of listening goes, you need to listen, understand, reflect, and then respond. If you find yourself holding on to a response/question even before the person has completed speaking, you haven’t listened. It’s critical to not reply, instead, ask the person to repeat and understand the person’s view before forming a response or asking your next question.
- Personal opinions. The biggest hurdle you need to overcome to master the skill of listening is understanding that no two people comprehend the same experience in the same way. When listening, make sure you avoid responses influenced by your personal beliefs and prejudice. That is recognizing the fact that opinions and perspectives that don’t align with your own do exist and are just as right. While it is not easy, it is the biggest thing you have to master to become an active listener.
Disclaimer: The author isn’t a licensed mental health professional. Views expressed in the article is purely an opinion and perception of the author. The views expressed above shouldn’t be taken as medical and/or professional advice.