Ever find yourself just waiting for someone to stop talking so you can have your say, or you’ve got a response ready before they have finished?  I’m pretty sure we all do it, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a good way to communicate.  Usually, the other person feels that they’ve not been heard, and that sucks.

Active Listening is a simple, but powerful, technique for taking in what someone is saying.  It can:

  1. reduce anxiety, 
  2. improve communication, and 
  3. encourage empathy.

It starts with listening without formulating a reply (even if you’re dying to).  Now you might be thinking that’s tosh because how are you going to be heard? Be patient, it could work out really well for you.

Next repeat back what you heard (as close as you can, and without changing it so it becomes a reply).  Now is a good time to ask if what you said was accurate… if it was, great!  If not, ask them to say the bits you missed again, and repeat what you heard this time around.

The most likely outcomes of this are:

  1. you accurately repeated what you heard, and the other feels listened to, 
  2. you find it hard to hear what the other is saying and need some bits repeating, or
  3. You have a great memory and can repeat the words but not connect to them, so the other feels listened to but not really heard.

If the third outcome is what you find, or you want to step it up a bit, try repeating back what you heard, but in your own words (ie, paraphrasing).  This means you have to show you understand the meaning of what was said as well.  Again, this is a good time to check that your interpretation was accurate.

For example… Repeating:

Person 1: “I’m knackered when I get home and I just want to chill for a bit”

Person 2 repeats: “you’re knackered when you get home and you just want to chill for a bit, is that right?”

Person 1: “yes, that’s right”

Or Person 2 repeats: “you’re knackered and want to chill before you get home, is that right?”

Person 1: “almost… I want to chill after I get home”

Person 2: “you’re knackered when you get home and you just want to chill then”

Person 1: “yes, that’s right”

For example… Paraphrasing:

Person 1: “I’m knackered when I get home and I just want to chill for a bit”

Person 2 paraphrases: “work is hard and you need some time to yourself when you get home, is that what you meant?”

Person 1: “yes, that’s right”

Or Person 2 paraphrases: “work is hard and you need some time to yourself when you get home, is that what you meant?”

Person 1: “no… work is hard, but I want to sit and have a glass of wine with you and talk about my day for 10 minutes”

Person 2: “work’s tough and you’d like to talk it over for 10 minutes over a glass of wine”

Person 1: “yes, that’s right”

Repeating and paraphrasing might seem simple, but it can take practice and just straight parroting back what someone says sounds a bit strange at first, but… 

it’s very often an effective way of improving communication as it encourages the feeling of being heard 

… and that can reduce anxiety, improve connection and support empathy 

(if you don’t believe that, just notice how your order in a restaurant/fast food chain is repeated so you don’t worry they got it wrong and you feel better about the place).

And if you’re frustrated at not being able to reply, Active Listening works best when you take turns… so you also have a chance to feel being heard and not just defensively ‘yes, but’ (for example) back and forwards.

 

Take care

Chris

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