“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”– Stephen Covey
I always thought that I love interacting with people, it comes very easily to me. And this thought got stronger as people close to me came across wanting to discuss their concerns and worries. I would silently listen to them and be the comforting shoulder they need. I was happy that my listening skills were working. Until recently, when I got formally introduced to the competency of Active Listening and comprehending what it exactly means. I reflected that being silent in a conversation doesn’t mean that I am listening.
Most of us can vouch for our listening skills and we have learnt at some point in our lives the basic rules of listening:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Not interrupting whilst the other person is still speaking
- Giving non-verbal cues like nodding, mirroring, smiling
- Paraphrasing what has been said
- Brief verbal affirmations like “I understand”, “I See” “Sure”
Active listening is few steps ahead of the basic rules of listening. Active listening involves more than just hearing someone speak. It refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you engaged in the conversation. When you practice active listening, you make the other person feel heard and valued. In this way, active listening is the foundation for any successful conversation.
As I reflected deeper, I was doing all that was listed for good habits in listening skills, however, somethings were holding me back from Active Listening:
- My inner voice: as the other person spoke, there was this ‘I know what you are feeling’ voice inside me which spoke inside my head making me deaf (sometimes even dreaming or taking me back to a similar instance in my life). Without hearing the full part, I already had a narrative in my head.
Reflection: Shut down your internal dialogue while listening. It is impossible to attentively listen to the speaker and your own internal voice at the same time.
2. Asking questions: since we are taught too much of not interrupting, I even lost the knack of asking questions thinking that I may be interrupting. And by the time the person would stop talking I have lost the thread and forgotten the question.
Reflection: Avoid interrupting abruptly however, show interest by asking questions to clarify what is said. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker.
3. Being judgmental: labelling comes easy to me, I often conclude without listening to all perspectives, thoughts and cover it with my own judgements. As you label, you stop listening further and be a selective listener.
Reflection: Consciously practice being open, neutral, and withhold judgement while listening. Be patient and listen, everyone doesn’t need your judgements.
4. Focusing on reply: as the speaker is talking, I am preparing myself for a reply or a solution to what’s being said. Thus, loosing track of what’s being said.
Reflection: Do not prepare your reply while the other person speaks; the last thing that they say may change the meaning of what has already been said. It is my need to reply, may not be the speakers need. So, focus on what is being said.
As I consciously work on my reflections, I realized it allows me to understand the point of view of the speaker and respond with empathy. It also allows me to ask questions to make sure I have understood what is being said thereby raising my curiosity quotient. In addition, active listening helps relationships grow as it makes you less likely to jump in with a ‘quick fix’ when the other person just wants to be heard. Most importantly, it validates the speaker and makes them want to speak longer.