You may consider yourself a good listener, but are you an active listener?
Being a “good” listener goes beyond lending an ear and nodding at the pauses. The difference lies in the way we interact, give feedback, and generally offer support as a helpful, vocal participant in the conversation.
“Are You Listening to Me?”
It’s not hard to tell when we’re not being listened to. Heard, yes, but listened to? Very different. Active listeners are never put in the awkward position of nodding emphatically and saving face with a hasty “I’m listening, I’m listening!” Take a cue and make sure that you’re engaged in the discussion.
Put down the phone, tablet, or whatever screen vies for your attention and fix that attention solely on the speaker. You would think this to be common sense, but not all of us are blessed with the awareness that split attention is diluted attention.
We all like to think we can multitask like a boss, but there’s simply no way to check your Insta feed while maintaining true and present contact with your *irl speaker (*in-real-life, for those who don’t know).
Allowing yourself to be engaged prevents your mind from wandering, and eyes from glazing over. Ask questions, but don’t fall into the parrot method of simply repeating what you’ve heard. Offer suggestions, but try not to go from active listener to active fixer.
Listen as if you’re trying to uncover the mysteries and nuances of the other person, sharing in the experience and being present in a way that reassures the speaker that you’re truly with them.
Be the Observer
Another way to improve your listening skills and take it one step further is by reading between the lines, so to speak. If you notice that the speaker halts at certain instances, trails off, or makes an obvious effort to sway the conversation in another direction, circle back and gently initiate a follow-up.
Quite often, a speaker is looking for someone to offer feedback that will allow her to work out her thoughts verbally and come to an understanding that she may not be able to reach without this interaction. It’ll become clear which topics must be avoided completely and which warrant some compassionate prodding.
Another important observational clue is body language. Without becoming distracted, take notice of the speaker’s facial expressions, stance, berth, and the general “vibe” that they give off as they speak. For instance, some people are more comfortable avoiding eye contact during a difficult or emotional conversation, and others appreciate a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on.
Some treasure their personal space, and may pace or sway while talking, while others may physically and emotionally draw nearer. Anticipate what your speaker needs and try to be a match for it.
Holding space for another person is a bit like being a bodyguard. You’re very present, you’re very aware, and you help create a safe atmosphere that encourages open and honest expression.
Your speaker will pick up on this subconsciously, and you’ll likely notice that he or she will appear to be more comfortable and become more animated while speaking. Remember to limit distraction and lay the groundwork (on an energetic level) for open communication. You can practice holding space by maintaining a presence that is filled with strength, compassion, and quiet support.
On a basic level, a “good” listener is one who makes us feel listened to, rather than simply heard. Consider the active listeners in your life and take note of the reasons they have earned this title. Observe, integrate, and apply these treasured traits, transforming your relationships through support, authentic communication, trust, and understanding.