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  • Writer's pictureAli McNab

A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved - Are You Listening Actively?

Imagine if the greatest thing you did today was to simply listen to someone….. I mean truly listen, not just nod in the right places.

Be it a friend, family, colleague or stranger; by actively listening to someone today you could make their world a little brighter.


Active listening goes way beyond simply hearing the words, it involves being present and fully focused on what the other person is saying. It can be incredibly empowering for the person you are listening to, and it can be immensely rewarding for you in broadening your horizons.

"When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new." - The Dalai Lama

When you actively listen you are “listening” with all your senses. This means you are empathetic without judgement; you consider others’ experiences before you butt in with your own; you put yourself in their shoes without making assumptions based on your personal experience. When you listen actively you listen between the lines; hearing what is NOT being said - the non-verbal messages; body language, emotions, tone.

Active listening enables you to form a deeper understanding of what is really going on for the other person, and it enables the other person to speak freely and openly. It helps them to get out of their own head and to unpick what they are experiencing. It allows thoughts to unfurl and negative feelings to disperse. It helps them to feel less alone.

“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak." Epictetus (Greek Philosopher)

Solutions and advice are not always necessary so don’t feel you have to offer them, sometimes what someone needs most is to feel listened to, to know you respect and value them and what they are sharing.

Here are some tips to help you actively listen:

  • Make eye contact - focus and concentrate on what is being said, close your laptop and put down your phone so you can pay full attention to the other person.

  • Park your own inner chatter - give that space to them - this can be difficult with the hectic lives we live. But try it - when you notice your own thoughts popping into your head tell them to wait at the door until it’s their turn!

  • Don’t interrupt - allow the other person's train of thought to unwind uninterrupted so that they can internally process what is going on for them as they speak out loud. Remember; this may be the 1st time they've been given the space to shared this.

  • Allow pauses - it is in these gaps between the words that thoughts unfurl. By holding that silence you are facilitating this to happen (the silence will likely feel more awkward for you than it will for them! - don’t feel you have to fill it).

  • Ask questions - this allows you to confirm your understanding without making assumptions and to explore their topic more deeply. It also lets them know that you are listening with interest and it helps them delve more deeply into their topic.

  • Reflect back what you are hearing - This can be powerful - it is like holding a mirror up and showing the other person how they look to the outside world - they may be pleasantly surprised.

  • Ask permission before giving advice - Be self-aware that if they have come to their own solutions then adding your stuff might murky the waters for them. If you feel you really do have something that will help them then a simple “would it be helpful if I shared something from my own experience” keeps them in control of whether they want to receive advice of not.

10th October is World Mental Health Day, whatever this day means to you, take a moment to listen to what it might also mean to those around you.


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