Active Listening - What is It and 7 Benefits of Practicing It
One of the most powerful and meaningful gifts we can give someone, on a daily basis, is simply being with that person. Every day we're faced with situations where communication is required with another person. It may be with our family members, friends, work colleagues, or people we meet throughout our daily lives.
Most times, we communicate without giving it much thought beyond what we want or have to say when engaging with another person. However, sometimes we find ourselves engaging with someone who really needs us to simply be with them and to actively listen.
But what does it mean to be actively listening to someone? Isn't listening all about hearing the words being spoken by someone and responding if appropriate? Aha, therein lies the answer - are you listening to the words and fully grasping what is being said? Or, are you hearing the words being spoken while constructing what you're going to say as soon as that person stops speaking?
Read on to find out what active listening actually means and what are the 7 benefits when you practice it when communicating with someone.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening requires us to capture and understand the messages that the other person is conveying to us. These messages can be transmitted verbally or non-verbally, clearly or vaguely.
It requires us, as the listener, to be aware of key feelings, key behaviors, and key experiences. And, to be acutely aware of both the body language and the spoken language.
Active listening requires us to be present in order to hear these messages.
Be honest with yourself and confess if you've ever been guilty of the following:
You find yourself getting agitated as you wait for the first gap in the conversation.
You can't wait to put across your own thoughts, feelings, or advice when engaged in a conversation with someone else.
You interject with your own story because you think your experience will make the other person feel better?
When you walk away from this conversation, can you honestly say that you heard what the other person had been trying to tell you? One lesson I learned a long time ago was that no matter how much I thought my story or my experience was similar to another person, it simply wasn't.
A Real-Life Example!
Let me share a story with you as an example of when I was NOT actively listening.
A friend and I were having coffee and she was telling me her story about her abusive husband. Without giving it much thought, I started nodding my head in agreement, interjecting with my own story.
It wasn’t long before I noticed she had gone quiet and there was a look of disappointment on her face. I only realized, much later, that she felt I hadn’t heard her.
I always thought I was a good listener, so when I realized that I had actually “hijacked” my friend’s experience with my own experience, I wasn't honoring her story.
The Value of Active Listening
The more I engage with people from all walks of life, the more stories I hear and the more I learn the value of active listening. The outcome? The other person walks always feeling lighter, almost as if a burden had been lifted off their shoulders. This was simply because I had actively listened.
Through active listening, I'm creating a safe space for the other person in which they can unpack their story while sorting out their concerns and problems. By “talking it out” and being heard, a person will often find their own solutions to the problems they're facing.
Or, they may just feel so relieved having been able to speak up and have their story heard.
Imagine being the listener who gave someone this gift?
Active Listening is Being With the Person
The art of being an active listener is by being with the person. By “being with” them, you're able to be present and truly able to listen. You become their mirror in which they can see their own behavior and attitudes more completely.
Active listening serves as a mirror, reflecting things about the other person’s physical self that they would not otherwise see. This helps them to understand themselves better. They can then decide if they want to change what they see.
Active Listening Keeps You Out of Trouble
Active listening also keeps me out of trouble! When trying to impose my own views or understanding of the problems (making assumptions or worse, trying to finish their sentences!) I may offer advice that actually is intensifying their problem.
Instead, I could be actively listening and empowering the other person to find a solution that works for them. Active listening requires me to listen with both my SELF and the person speaking. By doing this, I'm creating an awareness of my own feelings being evoked by the other person.
I choose to silence myself and acknowledge the importance of what is being said by the other person. In this way, I am empowering this person to seek clarity from their own experience and giving them the responsibility to find the solution.
7 Benefits of Active Listening
I've already shared the key benefits of actively listening to someone when you're engaged in a conversation with them. But here are 7 more benefits of this style of listening to help you become a better communicator.
1. You Avoid Making Assumptions
When you actively listen to a conversation, you gather all the necessary facts that'll prevent you from making assumptions. By focusing on what is being said instead of thinking about your own response, you're equipping yourself with critical facts. This way, you'll be able to give the correct response.
2. You Make the Right Decisions
When you allow yourself to actively listen to what is being said, you'll be giving yourself the opportunity to get all the information you need to make the right decision. Instead of basing your decision on half-truths and misinformation, you can rest assured you're making the right choice for you when you've got all the facts.
3. You Have More Clarity
By actively listening, you're getting to the real issue behind the problem. You can uncover what's really driving the problem by being fully present. Clarity can be gained when you understand completely what is being said, how it's being said, and what's NOT being said.
4. You Create Better Relationships
When a person feels they're being truly heard and understood, their trust and respect in you grow. Active listeners encourage the speaker to express their thoughts and feelings more clearly by asking the right questions and being objective. This prevents misunderstandings and improves relationships.
Michael Sorenson's book, "I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships" talks about the validation of another person. And, one of the ways to do this is by listening while being fully present.
5. You Can Find Resolutions
By hearing the critical facts and understanding the underlying issues you've given yourself information to work on. And, as the speaker expresses with trust, respect, and confidence, you're likely to have more clarity around the problem. Active listening creates a conducive environment for resolutions to be found and problems more easily solved - amicably!
6. You Stop Wasting Time
Instead of wasting time saying useless things, you only speak when you know you're contributing positively to the conversation. Active listening requires your full attention to what is being said and only speaking when your contribution is of value. By doing this you avoid conversations that go around in circles, producing nothing but irritation and a waste of time!
7. You Learn From What Others Have to Say
Active listening opens you up to hearing what others have to say and contributes to the conversation. When you're not focusing fully, you're missing out on valuable contributions being shared by the speaker. They could be pointing out creative ideas, solutions, and more teaching you more than you realized.
By actively listening, I am telling the other person that I care. My listening style tells them that I'm giving them the dignity to make their own decisions (even if I don’t agree with them) and that I have no desire to “fix” them. I'm recognizing them as complete and whole beings.
By actively listening, I create a space for the other person to discover what is really going on for them. I'm acknowledging that they're not helpless and that they're able to do it for themselves (even if it does take some time).
By actively listening, I am letting the other person feel as they do feel, without belittling those feelings in any way. This allows them to discover and understand, for themselves, why those feelings were perhaps sometimes a bit irrational.
Being a life coach has taught me the power of being an active listener. Only then can I empower my clients to see life from different perspectives.
I read this little quote the other day:
“Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes, for some people. Because God is mute and He doesn’t give advice or try to fix things. “They” just listen and let you work it out for yourself” - Annonymous
I challenge you to be an active listener. Try it out. "Being with" is an empowering gift – give it with all of your heart.
This post was originally published on April 6th, 2021, and updated on July 6th, 2022.
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