• Dr. Glenn Sloman

Want to be a better listener and communicator? Try active listening!

Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone who is distracted? Generally, they are looking at their phone, giving short replies, and overall seem to be disengaged from the conversation. Something else is on their mind, it is not what you are saying. This is passive listening. Passive listening can make us feel irritated and invalidated.

On the other hand, think about a conversation where you felt “heard,” that the other person “got you,” and you had their undivided attention? Those moments are extremely meaningful, and possibly, rare. Now, imagine bringing that level of engagement to a common conversation, or when arguing, whereby you are actively seeking to understand the other person’s perspective? Picture how by being an active listener your conversational partner becomes more engaged as well.

Ready to start? Try these four tips to be a better listener and ultimately communicator with those that matter to you:

1. Listen to what the other person is saying, and then paraphrase. In short, you give what you got back. Why paraphrase? Paraphrasing lets the person hear that you have their attention and are attempting to understand what they are saying.

2. Ask open-ended questions that start with who, what, where, when, and how to seek understanding. Open-ended questions seek descriptive information, while yes or no questions often fail to give detail. For example, asking a child, “Did you have a good day at school?” may only return a “yes” or “no” response. While asking, “What did you do today?” may give you much more detail for a rich conversation.

3. Use non-verbal body language that communicates engagement and willingness to listen. Lean in, open your arms (not crossed), face forward and maintain good eye contact. These non-verbals communicate an intent to truly listen to what the other person is saying.

4. Letting the other person finish: Allow the other person to finish without interrupting them or trying to help finish their sentences.

As the holidays and holiday dinners/parties fill up the calendar, tryout these active listening skills with friends, family, and colleagues at your next engagement. You might find that relationships tend to grow, conflicts resolve smoothly, and you improve accuracy of understanding.

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