Community//

Conversations in Tough Times : The Power of Active Listening

The novel coronavirus has thrown me under the bus. My days begin and end in pretty much the same way, with a few changes in what I have for dinner or what I decide to watch on Netflix.  I’m a people person who thrives on human connection, so social isolation makes me feel lonely.  I thought […]

The novel coronavirus has thrown me under the bus. My days begin and end in pretty much the same way, with a few changes in what I have for dinner or what I decide to watch on Netflix.  I’m a people person who thrives on human connection, so social isolation makes me feel lonely.  I thought I’d be okay with it, but this isolation is beginning to feel like forever, although we are only a month in.

The terms social isolation and loneliness have been used interchangeably, and although related, they are not the same thing.   Loneliness is subjective, the way you can feel even when surrounded by friends and family.  By comparison, social isolation is objective, defined as the absence of social contact, where the number of people you are with can be counted.  Experts tell us that social isolation can lead to loneliness.

Here we are in 2020 with video conferencing platforms offering a potential antidote to social isolation. That may be true for some, but not for all.  If you’re a Face Time laggard like me the opportunity to pretty it up and put yourself out there on the screen featuring a bad hair day, is far less appealing then hiding behind the comfort of a telephone call. I’d always been the one who kept the Zoom video off while my colleagues were on, and declined meeting a date or talking to a friend on FaceTime. Facetime wasn’t my go to.  I thought my resistance to video was driven by vanity, but I now know that there was another barrier.  Video chats, like speaking with others face to face requires focused attention to the conversation.  It’s not cool to multi-task when others can see that while they are speaking with you. But more importantly no one is benefiting from the conversation when one person is not truly listening to the other.    

Earlier this year I trained in meditation and mindfulness. Among they many practices taught I learned about a practice called Active or Reflective listening, a term coined by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson in 1957. Active listening is not just about being on the other end of a conversation, listening to someone speak and hearing what they have to say.  It is about fully concentrating on what is being said, and observing the other person’s body language.  To actively listen, you need to see the person you are talking with. Consider their body language and what their eyes are saying. There are so many signals that we miss when we are not using our eyes to observe what is being said. 

The most important thing I learned about the practice of active listening is that when people speak with you they are speaking because they want to be heard. They don’t necessarily want you to agree with them, and most likely are not looking for your advice. When two people take turns actively listening it’s a win, win for both parties.  They both feel better and less alone just by being there and letting the other be heard. 

Thankfully this pandemic has come during a time when almost every one has access to video conferencing with Zoom, Google Hang-outs, FaceTime and other platforms. This gives us the opportunity to practice active listening. And practice is key.  

Wouldn’t it be great to practice active listening in the virtual world and bring it to the real world for more meaningful conversations once the pandemic becomes a distant memory. 

Give it a go! Nothing ventured, nothing lost!

#active listening #mindfulness #zoom

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