To truly listen to someone is one of the greatest gifts you can offer them; it’s a way of saying I’m here with you and I consider you worthy enough to give you my full attention. Some people are good at quietly, passively, listening to another person. Others find that more of a challenge.
Active listening, however, takes communication to an even higher level: it’s about empathy, stepping into the other person’s world, seeing things from their point of view – and most importantly, letting them know you’re doing so.
All good listening, of course, starts with paying attention. When a person is communicating something to you, they don’t just do it with words. Actually, what they say accounts for only a small percentage of their message. Most of their communication is done via body language, posture, their tone of voice and facial expression. Someone who tells you they’re “fine” when their voice is dull and their face looks sad, is clearly not fine. So giving someone your full attention and noticing their non-verbal signals is a very good start.
But What Makes Listening Active?
What makes listening active, is the feedback you give people on what you understand to be their true message; how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and doing. It’s about letting them know you truly hear them.
Paraphrasing is a great first step in letting someone know you hear them. It can take a few attempts not to sound too wooden, but it’s well worth doing.
Paraphrasing means reflecting back almost exactly what a person has said but in slightly different words. Paraphrasing, in itself, is not about depth of listening; it’s more like opening the gateway to a deeper connection. It’s like saying, “Hey I’m on the same page and I’m willing to go deeper if you want?”
Here are some examples of paraphrasing:
Phrase: I was so worried about [name] when she didn’t come home at the usual time.
Paraphrase: It was so stressful for you, wondering where [name] could be.
Phrase: Why don’t you ever put the rubbish out when I ask you?!
Paraphrase: It’s annoying for you; you ask me to put the rubbish out but I don’t do it.
Phrase: I’m really fed up with you not listening to a word I say!
Paraphrase: My not listening to you is getting you down.
Phrase: We really ought to go and visit uncle [name] on Sunday.
Paraphrase: You’re thinking we owe him a visit?
Hint: paraphrasing works well when you focus on using the emotional words a person uses, such as anger, worry, excitement, thrilled, terrified, down etc. This is because you’re connecting with them on a feeling level.
Checking is a powerful way to convey to someone that you’re really with them in the conversation. It goes deeper than paraphrasing.
Here are some examples of checking:
Can you explain a little more?
Tell me more about that?
I just want to make sure I’m seeing it from your perspective.
Is it like this, you feel……..? Is that right?
Is it……… that makes you angry, or something else?
I think I know what you mean, but I’m not 100% sure, can you tell me more?
Paraphrasing and Checking, are just two of the ways we can actively listen to another person. In doing so, we can gain a stronger, more intimate relationship, where any differences can be quickly overcome and harmony restored.