Have you ever walked away from a conversation and couldn’t remember what was shared? Can you remember the person’s name or what they were wearing? It’s embarrassing, isn’t it?
This type of mindlessness is often the case because we hold too many things in our head at once. If our conversation focuses on work, our thoughts may drift to a project due soon. If the topic goes to an illness, our thoughts wander again. If the topic is about something we don’t understand, we may stop listening and start planning our exit.
Listening is communicating. You are letting the other person know they matter.
Active listening means being present in the moment and focusing your attention on the speaker. When the topic is about work, acknowledge in your head that you have a project due, then return your attention to the speaker
In order to stay engaged, offer feedback and encouragement to keep the conversation going. Your body language can send a signal that you’re listening when you face the person, nod your head, smile and look thoughtful as a way to encourage the speaker.
Now, if you want to get rid of the person (for whatever reason) be sure to do the opposite. Look away, frown, refuse to make eye contact, cross your arms and turn your body away. Your body speaks volumes and you just have to decide what message you want to convey.
Active listening is when you are focused on the other person and
- You’re listening
- You’re commenting
- You’re asking questions
- You’re detecting emotions
- You’re reflecting back what you heard
When you are truly listening, you’re creating a safe environment where there an equal measure of shared information. You share something about yourself and the other person does too.
An imbalance occurs when one person does all the talking and shares too much information. In some cases, when it’s a friendship for instance, this may be a healthy thing. However, in a casual conversation, too much information can make you feel uncomfortable.
Be sure to offer a summary of what you’re hearing. This ‘reflecting back’ lets the other person know you’re really listening to their story. “Sorry to hear you lost your job! But I am so happy to hear that you’re going back to college! What does your family think about your decision?”
By reflecting back, you’re able to capture their content (what is going on) and their feelings. When you listen carefully, you may find times when the content and feelings don’t match up. If that happens, ask them to ‘tell you more’ and maybe you’ll get more of an understanding of what’s going on.
Listening is an important communication tool that is often underused. The next time you have the opportunity to speak — stop yourself and choose the role as active listener. Then let me know what you learned…