Active Listening IS Active

Most people would probably consider themselves to be active listeners. We think because we have a general idea of what the other person is saying, we have actively and genuinely listened to them.

Active listening, however, is actually a much more involved process than most people realize. To truly be an active listener, we must be willing to put aside our own thoughts, feelings, and prejudices in order to understand where the other person is coming from. This type of listening requires forging a connection with the other person by expressing true empathy.

Empathy means the ability to fully comprehend another person, even going so far as to feel the things that he or she is feeling. This will only occur if we agree to put aside our own thoughts, feelings, or motivations for a period of time while we actively focus on the other person and what they are trying to communicate.

Active listening can, of course, be difficult, particularly if the conversation will have an outcome that is personally or professionally important. However, if we can put aside any deeper implications that may nag at us, and instead put our energy into focusing on the other person – often the outcome is increased trust and respect from the other individual.

The feeling of cooperation and respect that arises from active listening is invaluable to forming and maintaining open, honest relationships, both professionally and personally.

Another problem that often arises in conversation is that the listener may have preconceived notions about the speaker. These judgments prevent active listening from truly happening. Even if the listener thinks that he or she has put away these thoughts, they may still remain on an unconscious level. A great way to get past this is to have a neutral third party be a part of the conversation, or to learn how to transcend these feelings. For some of us, an easy way to do this is to mentally pretend as though we’ve never met the speaker before. If we can successfully do this, then we will be able to put aside any negative thoughts or feelings and to listen impartially.

Even if we are successful at practicing both of these strategies, there is still another barrier to active listening that must be overcome. This barrier is that of one’s own personal “noise.” This “noise” may be worries at home or at work, or even just simple thoughts about all the things we have to accomplish on that day. Many people have found that practicing meditation can help them to overcome this type of intrinsic propensity. Meditation need not be spiritual in nature. It can be a simple process of clearing one’s mind and learning to focus on the moment at hand.

Aside from meditation, simply letting go of all other thoughts and making a firm decision to be in “listening” mode can make a world of difference. Though other thoughts may come in and out of one’s head, he or she should push them away and force himself or herself to concentrate only on the speaker’s words.

These barriers may seem insurmountable, but with a little self-discipline and practice, they slowly become easier. Before attempting active listening on a professional level, try practicing these strategies with a close friend or with a family member. Having the friend or family member quiz you on what was said is a great way to test your active listening skills – if you are willing to listen to the answers! With a little bit of practice, active listening can easily become second nature.