Recently we took time out for an active listening session with our Creative Director and qualified counselor, Alice McCutcheon. Here is what Alice had to say about the art of active listening…
We’re all guilty of not really listening at times, some more than others. Active listening is a key communication skill which is harder than it sounds. It’s a discipline which requires full concentration and a lot of practice. As a qualified therapist, it’s something I had to master during my training and it’s a skill I use very day; at home and at work. Try tuning into people more with these hints and watch your relationships strengthen.
The key is that you are listening to understand, not to respond. Think about putting yourself in their shoes. When someone is explaining a situation or sharing their thoughts, suspend all your own assumptions, so you can see things from their perspective. This position enables you to be completely neutral and free of judgement, so you can go beyond the words that someone is saying and understand the meaning, often when the other person doesn’t actually recognize this themselves.
Non-verbal cues and staying curious are also important. Non-verbal cues include leaning forward towards the other person, consistent eye contact and mirroring their facial expressions, to demonstrate how present you are. Taking a moment to paraphrase, reflect back and summarise to the person what you’re hearing shows you’re really listening and taking-in everything they’re saying. Checking in with statements like; “so to clarify, you……” or “OK, I’m just going to summarise what I’ve heard, to make sure I’m really understanding you…” are really effective here.
Encouraging the person to explore their thoughts with open questions is another way to cement the connection. Be really curious, pick up on key words and ask questions like; ‘what was that like for you?’, ‘can you tell me more about that?’, ‘you mentioned that was important, can you expand on that?’. Lastly, don’t be afraid of silences. Give the person space to think in these moments and they will generally naturally fill it.
It’s quite obvious how this can benefit our relationships with friends, family and colleagues, especially when someone is emotionally distressed or facing a life challenge. Nobody wants advice in this situation. They want to be listened to. They want to be heard. This stance will also mean they feel valued and often help them come to their own conclusion, if they are feeling confused. Active listening creates openness and is essentially about learning from others. In this context, this mode of listening also builds trust and strengthens relationships, which means it’s actually useful in all relationships; professional and personal ones alike.