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Communicate better through active listening

One of the interesting elements of good communication is not so much about what we say as it is about how we listen. Many good things happen when we engage in what is called “Active Listening.” These include: better retention of what was said, a greater sense of connection, and overall efficiency within the process of communication.

What’s different about it?

One of the most prevalent aspects of a difficult conversation is when one person is anxiously biding their time for the other person to finish their thought. Then the second person jumps in with their thought- they have been holding it in for a while, it seems to them.

But what can happen is that the content of the first thought is lost in the quick introduction of the next thought, which may or may not be a response. The first person can feel dismissed, and the second person may be unaware of what was said. This leads to ineffective exchange of ideas and a lack of mutual understanding.

Most of us have seen the person who, filled with their own sense of what to say, bites their tongue in the meeting or conversation, as if to physically hold in their thought that wants to spew forth. Think of televised presidential debates.

Another aspect of failed listening is the distraction situation that arises when we are “multi-tasking,” and looking at a screen or listening to a message while we are also in a conversation. This also leads to ineffective communication and a need to repeat what was said. Youth to the contrary, we are simply not able to truly multi-task.

So what do we do to listen actively?

There are three key beneficial elements of active listening:


We want to understand what the other person is saying


We want to retain what they have said in our memory. Active listening can improve the rate of retention. You could call it “mindful listening.”


As we respond to the speaker based on improved listening, we can positively influence the overall communication process.

Some guidelines

John Grohol, a psychologist, has offered a very useful summary of some tips for responding while actively listening. I have selected some of these here:

1. Restating
To show you are listening, repeat every so often what you think the person said – not by parroting, but by paraphrasing what you heard in your own words. For example, “Let’s see if I’m clear about this. . .”

2. Summarizing
Bring together the facts and pieces of the problem to check understanding – for example, “So it sounds to me as if . . .” Or, “Is that it?”

3. Minimal encouragers
Use brief, positive prompts to keep the conversation going and show you are listening – for example, “umm-hmmm,” “Oh?” “I understand,” “Then?” “And?”

4. Reflecting
Instead of just repeating, reflect the speaker’s words in terms of feelings – for example, “This seems really important to you. . .”

5. Giving feedback
Let the person know what your initial thoughts are on the situation. Share pertinent information, observations, insights, and experiences. Then listen carefully to confirm.

6. Probing
Ask questions to draw the person out and get deeper and more meaningful information – for example, “What do you think would happen if you. . .?”

7. Validation
Acknowledge the individual’s problems, issues, and feelings. Listen openly and with empathy, and respond in an interested way – for example, “I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue. . .”

8. Silence
Allow for comfortable silences to slow down the exchange. Give a person time to think as well as talk.

Source: Psych Central (Online)

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