Do you know how to Listen Actively?
Updated: May 21
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 the other person to form a deeper understanding of what is really going on for them, and it enables them 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 may help them feel less alone in their thoughts.
“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 that you have empathy for what they are sharing.
Here are some tips to help you practise active listening:
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 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 helps them explore more deeply. It lets them know that you're listening with interest and empathy, and that it's a safe space to talk.
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. We don’t always hear what we say, having our words reflected back can help change our perspective.
Don't feel you have to give advice - Be aware that if they've come to their own solutions then that is what's right for them; they know themselves best! Adding your own stuff might murky the waters. If you feel you really do have something of value to offer 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.
Ali McNab works with women who want to make positive change in their lives, enabling them to experience a more balanced, fulfilled and meaningful life or career. Ali supports them to build confidence, self-belief and self-awareness so they can do this with purpose and clarity.
As well as working directly with individuals, Ali works with charities and social purpose organisations supporting their approaches to staff well-being and growth. www.alimcnab.com