Active Listening

Listening Points

Active listening is a form of communication used in conflict resolution and counseling. An active listener’s focus is on fully understanding and remembering what is said, communicating to the speaker that his or her words have been heard and are being considered.

How to be an Active Listener

  1. Give your total attention to the speaker.

    • Maintain eye contact.

    • Read the speaker’s body language.

    • Tune out environmental distracters.

    • Try not to mentally prepare your response. Just listen.

  2. Signal that you are listening.

    • Smile when appropriate.

    • Nod or say “uh huh”.

  3. Give feedback.

    • Reflection: “What I’m hearing is…” “Sounds like you’re saying…”

    • Ask clarifying questions: “What do you mean by…?” “Do you mean that…?” (Keep your tone neutral or friendly.)

    • Summarize or paraphrase what has been said.

    • If something said sounds like a personal criticism, acknowledge that and ask for clarification. “Maybe I’m misunderstanding because I’m taking what you said personally. I thought you said XXX; did I understand correctly?”

      • If you are being personally attacked, use “I” messages. “I feel hurt (name the emotion) when people call me names (name the behavior). I expect everyone to be treated with respect (give the solution).”

        • Notice that the word you is NOT used. It puts the other person on the defensive, thereby blocking communication.

    • Avoid “why” questions. They can lead to blaming or appear to be judgmental.

    • Label emotions when appropriate. “You seem/sound angry.” “I hear anger.” If you are wrong, the speaker will tell you and will usually appreciate the attempt at understanding.

  4. Defer judgment

    • Do not interrupt the speaker.

    • Do not respond with counter arguments.

    • Remember that your goal is an in-depth understanding of the speaker’s point of view.

  5. Respond (You may not be ready to respond immediately. You may need time to think about what you’ve heard in order to truly understand it. That’s fine. Don’t rush into a response.)

    • Never belittle or demean the speaker. Follow the Golden Rule.

    • Give your opinion respectfully. Use “I” rather than “you”.

    • Focus on problem solving, finding common ground, and/or walking away with mutual respect rather than “winning”.

    • Be gentle.

    • Example response. You are pro-choice listening to someone who is anti-choice.

      • I understand and respect what you are saying about the sanctity of life and your religious beliefs; however, I am pro-choice. I am uncomfortable making such an important decision for anyone other than myself.

Being an active listener takes practice because one must remain objective and detached. Role-playing potentially emotionally charged situations is a good way to practice this skill. We all know our own trigger points. Choose one of those issues and practice with someone you trust.

Source: Democrats Abroad Mexico, Costa Banderas Chapter: Wendy Woodworth, uploaded by Dean McIntyre

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