Andy T. Pham
Good listening involves you being attentive to a person’s words. Great listening or active listening requires you being attentive to a person’s emotional state and needs. Active listening goes beyond the words themselves and focuses on the reasoning for the words, the body language, and the tone of voice.
The first and most important part to a sincere conversation is genuine concern. There needs to be a vested interest on your part and you need to express it in a way so that the talker feels valued and appreciated. The most straight forward way is body language. Maintaining eye contact is a big one. Squarely face the person and subtly lean towards the person as you listen. And be relaxed, it should come naturally. If you are constantly thinking about correct posture and body signals, you are overthinking it. As long as you really care for what the person has to say, it will show in your body language!
As you listen, it is vital to take an active role, after all, it is called active listening. Encourage the other person to expand on their ideas through open-ended questions. By asking specific questions, you verbally communicate to them that you are interested in what they have to say and want to know more. Sometimes it helps the speaker to ask questions since the questions can help guide his or her train of thought as well. Questions allow the speaker to think about certain subject matters that were initially unconscious to them. You can ask about how they are feeling, how they felt about a certain situation, or what they are thinking. Gently encourage them with questions, especially open-ended questions that do not have a simple yes or no answer to them. Here’s a tip: open-ended questions usually start with “what” and “how.” (ex. What really helped you get through that situation?)
At some point in the conversation, you should respond back to the speaker to make sure that you understand them and that you are following along. There are some different ways to do this:
- Paraphrasing- You restate the speaker’s thoughts and ideas in your own words. Sometimes it helps the speaker reflect on his or her own thoughts by having an outside voice repeat the idea.
- Reflective Feelings- As you listen to the speaker, you examine their emotional state. Hopefully, you can articulate their emotional state back to them and help them confirm their feelings or even identify feelings that they might not realize themselves.
- Summarizing- You state what you have gathered from the conversation as a whole. Be careful not to lecture them and introduce your own opinions, but rather just recap their previous thoughts.
As you actively listen, remember that you are not there to make judgments or solve the speakers problems. You are there to support them and that may mean muting your opinions in order to understand theirs.