Active listening is a set of techniques that can be used for having successful conversations. It is the process of giving another person your full attention and seeking to understand their message. Active listening requires a learned and practiced skillset; it doesn’t tend to come naturally to us.
Showing another person that you’re willing to really hear them helps to foster trust and security. Learning and implementing active listening skills can improve your relationships: with your partner, your family members, your friends, your coworkers, and even with strangers.
Here are 5 Components of Active Listening:
1. Signal that you are listening with your body language
Make eye contact. Turn your body toward the person. Put away your phone or any other distractions. Tell the person you’re ready to listen.
2. Paraphrase what the person is saying to show them you understand their message
Listen carefully to the person’s message and take mental notes of the main ideas, then paraphrase their message back to them. Repeating the other person’s message sounds simple, but it can be challenging – especially if the conversation you’re having is tense or if you disagree with what the other person is saying.
Arguments and disagreements with others often escalate quickly when one or both people are feeling unheard. The more misunderstood and dismissed we feel, our goal becomes more and more about defending our case. Remember that the goal of repeating the person’s message is to signal to the person that you’ve understood their point, not that you agree with it. You can do this by starting with phrases like:
- “I’m hearing that you feel…”
- “From where you sit, it looks like…”
- “It sounds like you feel…”
- “It’s important to you that…”
- “Your experience is that…”
3. Withhold judgment
Active listening is just as much about what you’re not doing as it is about what you are. We tend to want to give our opinion when someone shares an issue they’re having. Sometimes this takes the form of trying to take away their negative experience with the intention of making them feel better.
Maybe a friend shares that they’ve been feeling guilty about something and you say “you shouldn’t feel guilty”. Your intentions are good, but in effect, you’re invalidating your friend’s experience, and it cuts the conversation short. So what can you do instead?
4. Ask the person to elaborate
Remember that the goal of active listening is to help the other person feel heard and understood. Let them talk, and encourage them to say as much as they want to. Ask them to elaborate by using phrases like:
- “Tell me more.”
- “What does that feel like?”
- “What has that been like for you?”
- “Is there more you want to tell me?”
5. Withhold advice
When someone comes to us with a problem or complaint, we tend to take a solution-focused approach: find the problem in order to fix it. Again, this approach usually comes with good intentions – we want to be helpful and we don’t want the other person to suffer. And sometimes the other person really is looking for advice or ideas for solving their problem. Oftentimes, however, the problems we all face are vague, layered, complicated, intangible, and can’t be “solved” quickly.
An assumption of active listening is that the other person will feel empowered to move through their problem on their own when they feel heard, understood, and validated. Jumping in to try to solve the person’s problem for them can effectively undermine their own innate ability to be resilient and resourceful.
Instead of offering ideas or advice right away, ask questions that help the person think through how they’ll cope through their problem, such as:
- “Has something like this happened before? What helped you get through it?”
- “What do you need most right now?”
- “What’s the first step?”
Active listening is just one component of cultivating trust and mutual respect in your relationships, but it can be hard to put into practice without guidance. Relationship experts at GLPG can help.