Over the past year, it’s become vital for everyone to learn better communication skills. Yet, despite all the hi-tech, conversing with another still depends on your words, tone, and body language. But that is from the speaker’s side of the conversation. What about the receiver? Your primary goal is to actively listen to the talker to understand what is being conveyed. This active listening is a genuine act of compassion you show to the speaker.
Hearing is a physical act the human body does by taking in and evaluating sound waves. The brain then interprets those vibrations into what you hear as a sentence spoken to you. This ability is a wonder and something many take for granted. But active listening is the conscious act of trying to understand what is being heard. Why? Because it requires the time and effort of the receiver to be fully present in the moment.
Genuine listening for many rarely occurs because countless people only hear to reply. However, when you truly listen, you build authentic connections with others, resolve issues, allow for understanding, minimize conflicts, and improve relations. When you listen to understand, it provides more time, better-shared experiences, and fewer errors. Through active listening, you can form better relationships, ones that heal and convey love and acceptance.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. ~ Bryant H. McGill
Why You Hear But Don’t Listen
As children, the only training you received in listening skills was admonishing when you weren’t focused on the speaker. Unfortunately, even parents don’t help children learn the skill of listening. Instead, many assume if you can physically hear, then you know how to listen.
Poor listening skills are just that, an undeveloped ability to hear with understanding and retain the information transmitted. But this ability is teachable. For example, some colleges have freshmen students take a listening course, which improves their comprehension by at least twenty-five percent and up to forty percent.
Active listening requires concentration. Why? Because you think much faster than you talk. Don’t your thoughts race by, one right after another, with no effort? So when someone is speaking, your mind is already searching for the response even though you’re not hearing the complete sentence being communicated to you. Or worse, your mind is thinking about something other than the conversation you’re having.
This half-listening becomes a nasty habit despite the concentration you think you’re giving the speaker because the brain wonders. At some point, the brain will allow one of these sidetracks of thought to interfere with what the speaker is saying to you. Then an important idea is missed. As a result, it becomes more challenging for you to understand what’s being communicated. Therefore, since you know you missed something, it allows the brain to wander more. As a result, in most conversations, the receiver only comprehends about half of what was spoken.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ~ Stephen R. Covey
Consciously Focusing On Active Listening
When you consciously choose to actively listen to understand what is being spoken to you, involves processes you can learn. These methods help you focus on the conversation, allowing for understanding, authentic connection, and respect for the speaker.
When you hear what is being said, try to expect where the conversation is leading in your mind. Or what conclusions can be extrapolated. This proactivity enables the brain to stay engaged in the conversation instead of wandering.
Evaluate the evidence the speaker is supplying. Also, determine what information is missing or could be helpful in the conversation. Again, this keeps the mind involved in the discussion, looking for data that helps the dialog.
Occasionally, review the information you received and mentally recap what they have conveyed to you so far. Thus, you are again allowing the brain to stay actively focused on the material being gleaned from the conversation.
Finally, pay attention to body language and possible tonal changes, which are the unspoken communication occurring. The unconscious mind will pick up these clues, but you must be able to notice them while listening.
Suppose you consciously focus on these mindful tasks while actively listening to the other person. In that case, you will keep your mind from wandering. As a result, you will comprehend more of the conversation, be more helpful to the speaker, and make authentic connections.
Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. ~ Dean Jackson
Conversations Convey Ideas
You speak to let others know the information you want to share. You most likely aren’t trying to give them a lot of details you want them to remember. So why do you try to gather the facts in a conversation?
When you speak to others, you have a purpose. So, yes, give facts if you’re talking about taxes, but most conversations convey ideas, feelings, or thoughts. If you provide specifics, they are to support the overall reason for the discussion. So, as a listener, gathering the facts may not help in understanding what is being conveyed.
As I write, I want you to understand the idea that active listening is an act of compassion you give to the speaker. It’s the overall idea I want you to understand, and I will provide you with examples and some data to help you comprehend. Still, the idea is what I want you to take with you.
So as you listen to another, look for the ideas, thoughts, or feelings they want you to understand instead of gathering the facts. And once you grasp the overall concept, the brain will remember the supporting points to help you understand the general idea.
Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another, which both attracts and heals. ~ J. Isham
Are Your Internal Filters Interfering With What You Hear?
Your emotions have a part in what you perceive. But you already know this, don’t you? So the egoic mind will tune out those things it doesn’t want to hear or focus only on what it wants to consider.
If a conversation emotionally activates you, your brain becomes overly stimulated. As a result, you may want to argue your point, become passive-aggressive or sarcastic.
When something triggers negative feelings in you, your active listening ability declines rapidly, and your comprehension is minimal.
The opposite is true as well. For example, suppose you hear positive things that support your beliefs. In that case, your critical thinking drops to a minimum, and you may miss the essential points you need. You allow the brain to become lazy in its discernment so you can enjoy the experience.
In both situations, you are reacting to words instead of listening to the idea. Therefore, the only way to overcome your emotional filters is to listen to the entire sentence before you can respond adequately. Then, when you wait to assess what is being said, you understand the idea being conveyed.
Another tool to help you when you are actively listening is to look for evidence that would prove your belief or idea as erroneous. Unfortunately, your egoic mind rarely does this. Therefore, you consciously have to choose to do this search as you listen to the person speaking. This way, you hear all you need to understand.
Listening is being able to be changed by the other person. ~ Alan Alda
Benefits Of Active Listening
You use more of your senses when you utilize oral communication, which helps you comprehend better. In addition, others can convey more in one discourse than if you read the information. Besides, there is an engagement aspect to conversing where if you need clarity, it can happen immediately.
When a friend speaks to you about a hard time they are going through, you can only empathize if you actively listen and comprehend on an emotional level. Likewise, authentic connections with others can only occur when communication is open and understood by both parties. Therefore, you need to learn to listen so your relationships thrive.
In a work environment, grasping differing viewpoints, absorbing knowledge, and solving problems requires active listening. The more attention you give to listening to what others say, the better it will equip you to resolve situations, exchange ideas, and move forward. All while staying focused and not going off on unconnected tangents.
Your compassion for others can only come out when you hear what they say and feel the emotions they are sharing with you as they communicate. If you aren’t actively listening, you will miss the opportunity to comfort, show kindness, and respect the speaker.
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him to empty his heart. ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Guidelines To Develop Your Active Listening Skills
Here are five ways for you to improve your listening skills.
- Give your attention to the speaker. This tip means to face them, maintain eye contact, and be fully present with them. Put aside mental and physical distractions, and show the talker you are focused on them and what they have to share with you.
- Be open-minded. You need to listen without judgment, biases, or jumping to conclusions. Remember, the speaker conveys their ideas through their filters. Put yours aside to comprehend what they are trying to mean.
- No interrupting. When you interrupt, you’re telling the speaker that you’re more important than they are, what you say is more germane, or you don’t care what they think. Also, don’t give advice or offer a solution unless asked. Many times they need you as a sounding board for them to see the answer for themselves. So be kind and allow the person to speak.
- Offer feedback. This reply is about showing the talker that you understand what they are saying. You can make this response with facial expressions or a nod. If you don’t understand, wait for a pause and ask a clarifying question. You can also summarize what they say as feedback, if appropriate.
- Picture what’s being said. Then, in your mind, create a mental picture of what is being communicated. This imagery helps your brain to stay focused on the conversation. In addition, it enables you to feel the speaker’s emotions.
The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. ~ Ralph Nichols
Moving Forward Actively Listening To Others
Remember, as kids playing the game, and you whispered a word to the person on your right. It went around a circle, and when it got back to you, it was a completely different and unrelated word! This game is an excellent example of why we hear but don’t comprehend what’s communicated.
But when you consciously choose to listen to another, you can overcome your internal auditory filters. Besides actually understanding the speaker, the benefits of active listening are collaborating and overcoming obstacles, grasping new knowledge, and staying focused on the topic.
However, I think the ability to empathize with another’s emotions is the act of compassion that only comes through active listening. When you can put yourself in another’s shoes and feel what they are going through, it comes through your focused attention on the other person. It facilitates genuine communication like nothing else. It’s authentically connecting the two of you, helpful to them, and an act of compassion on your part.
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold, and expand. ~ Karl A. Menniger
Do you need to learn better listening skills so your relationships thrive? Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please reach out to me at TerriKozlowski.com, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.