How to Practice Active Listening

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How to Practice Active Listening

At some point, we’ve all heard a friend or loved one cry out in desperation, “You are just not listening to me!” Perhaps we have even muttered that phrase ourselves. Having a conversation with someone can be frustrating when you feel like they aren’t listening to you. Poor communication often leads to discord and resentment. Fortunately, you can avoid the headache entirely by learning to practice active listening.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a technique used in counseling, training, and solving disputes and conflicts. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. This practice includes learning to observe the speaker’s behavior and body language.

Being able to interpret the speaker’s body language allows the listener to develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message. Having heard, the listener may even repeat what the speaker said, paraphrasing their words to ensure that they understood correctly.

Listening is a very important skill to have as it can determine how effective you are at your job, how well your relationships function, and so on. Learning to listen properly allows us to:

  • Obtain information
  • Understand
  • Cultivate relationships
  • Learn

Miscommunications as a Result of Poor Listening Skills

Since we as humans mainly communicate with our speech, you would think we would be pros at listening. The truth is, however, that most of us are not. In fact, research has suggested that we only remember about 25 to 50 percent of what we hear.

That means that if you are having a conversation with someone, you are likely to only remember half of what was said. Unfortunately, poor listening skills lead to countless miscommunications that could have serious consequences, depending on the specific situation. Too often, important information falls through the cracks.

Benefits of Learning to Practice Active Listening

When it comes to listening, everyone has room for improvement. Learning to practice active listening by bringing more consciousness to your behavior during conversations will greatly improve your communication. Consequently, strong communication skills will translate positively in just about every aspect of your life. Consider how your friendships and relationships with loved ones would transform if you learned to listen better.

Imagine how your work life would improve as you gain confidence in navigating difficult conversations with your superiors and co-workers. Think about what a relief it would be to eliminate conflict and misunderstandings simply by practicing simple techniques towards paying better attention.

Learning to Practice Active Listening

Learning to practice active listening involves making a conscious effort to not only hear the words a person is saying but to understand the message that they are trying to convey. In order to do this, you must pay attention very carefully to what is being said. Be careful not to let yourself get distracted by other things including external things, your counter-arguments, or how you feel about what is being said.

A useful tip is to repeat the speaker’s words in your head as they are saying them as a way of ensuring that you don’t lose focus and get lost in the conversation. Doing so will reinforce their message and keep you engaged. Additionally, it is important to let the speaker know that you are listening to and understanding what they are saying.

This acknowledgment can be as simple as nodding your head or saying “uh-huh.” You aren’t necessarily in agreement with this person. Instead, you are just letting them know that you are following them. Try asking the speaker questions to get more information from the conversation. An occasional recap is another great way to let them know that you are present.

The 5 Key Factors of Active Listening

  1. Pay Attention
    Look at the speaker directly
    Put aside distracting thoughts
    Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal
    Avoid being distracted by environmental factors
    “Listen” to the speaker’s body language
  2. Show that you are listening
    Nod occasionally
    Smile and use other facial expressions
    Make sure that your posture is open and interested
    Encourage the speaker with small verbal comments like yes, and “uh-huh”
  3. Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing
    Ask questions to clarify certain points
    Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically
  4. Defer judgment
    Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions
    Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments
  5. Respond appropriately
    Be candid, open, and honest about your response
    Assert your opinions respectfully
    Treat the other person the way you think they would want to be treated

Active listening requires a lot of focus and absence of judgment. If you feel yourself responding emotionally to what someone says, let them know what is happening. Explain to them that you aren’t sure if you are understanding correctly and you find yourself taking what they are saying personally. Tell them that what you thought they said was x y and z, and ask if that is, in fact, what they meant. If you misinterpreted their words, ask them if they could help you understand better.

Seeking Support as You Navigate Active Listening?

At The Kimberly Center, we understand that years of alcoholism and/or addiction can lead to difficulties with communication. Therefore, we prioritize the teaching and practicing of active listening as a life skill necessary to support long term recovery.

If you feel you are struggling with communication as a result of a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder, The Kimberly Center is here to help. The recovery process doesn’t have to start tomorrow. Your journey to a healthy and happy life starts the minute you say yes. Say yes today, and call us today, at (855) 452-3683.

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