Listening is the most important thing people need to implement in relationships, but it is also one of the hardest. Active listening helps people feel safe, heard, and understood, and it also can lead to growth and change.

“When people talk, listen completely.” – Ernest Hemingway

It is a sign of strength and humility, of wisdom and maturity. It is a skill underused and often forgotten, but when done poorly, it leads to broken relationships. People do not like to feel unheard.

In therapy, the term “active listening” is used to describe an effective style of listening. Counselors use this method of listening, but it is also a great method for anyone to learn. Many have written on the topic and have come up with various styles of active listening. This article will simply teach the fundamentals of active listening so that each person is equipped to know how to implement it.

How to Practice Active Listening

1. Turn toward

When a person is not facing someone talking to him, the other can interpret that as uncaring or uninterested behavior. Make every effort to pause and turn your body toward the person who is talking. This applies to the workplace, home, church, and friends. It communicates great respect for another person and helps them feel heard.

2. Make eye contact

Eye contact is key to effective communication. Similarly, turning your body toward the speaker, maintaining eye contact sends the signal that this conversation matters to you. There may be times when you are not interested in listening to another person or care about the conversation at all, but any valuable conversation merits your full attention.

3. Do not speak until the other is finished.

A sign of poor listening is jumping in to speak before the other person has finished stating his or her point of view. Wait until there is a clear pause that indicates it is now your turn to speak before jumping in with your own point of view.

4. Take deep breaths and maintain a relaxed posture.

If you are in conflict with someone, conversations can get heated and poor communication can occur – things like yelling, misunderstanding, interrupting, and harmful words. To listen well, no matter how angry or frustrated you may be in the moment, you must practice taking deep breaths and staying as calm as possible.

When upset, it is also human nature to want to jump in and speak your mind in defensiveness. Pray for a sense of calm and maintain your breath so that you do not feel tempted to overreact.

5. Pay attention to details in the conversation.

Just as you would if you were to take notes in class for a test, pay close attention to the specific words and phrases used so that it is clear what the other person is trying to communicate. Often people will mention they feel misunderstood because the other says that they said something they never actually said. Pay attention closely.

6. Ask clarifying questions.

When there is a pause in the conversation, and it is your turn to speak, ask questions to help you clearly understand the other person. Some examples of clarifying questions and statements are as follows:

  • Do you mean …?
  • Help me understand.
  • It seems like you feel ….
  • Are you feeling …?
  • Correct me if I am wrong, but I heard …
  • I hear you.
  • I could see why you would feel that way.

These will communicate respect to the other person and they will greatly decrease misunderstanding and further conflict.

7. Do not check your phone or continually get distracted.

In this day and age, people check their phones for emails, text messages, messages on social media, the news, remembering tasks, paying bills, and more.

Because of this, people are on their phones more than ever before, but when checking your phone in an important conversation, that communicates to the other person that you do not care about him or her. It could be a good rule of thumb to put away your phone in important conversations or during quality time with family or friends.

8. Keep an open mind.

Remember, you do not have to agree with the other person. However, it is helpful to keep an open mind in the conversation. Work to understand their point of view as much as possible, even if it is not your point of view.

Also, when in a disagreement, it is good to be open to changing your mind. You might not always be right, and it is a sign of maturity to have an open mind about some things. This posture also helps reduce further conflict and helps the other person feel heard.

9. Resist the urge to finish the other’s sentence.

This happens so often! Sometimes it is fine if the two people in the conversation are comfortable with it, but it can indicate that you are ready for the other person to hurry and finish what he is saying. It is not a sign of active listening. Let the other finish his sentence before speaking.

10. Do not push your opinion on the other.

Again, disagreement is inevitable. You will not agree on everything, and that is not a bad thing. That simply means that each person is unique, created in the image of God. It can be harmful, though, to jump in quickly to offer your opinion to change their mind. Though persuasion is appropriate at times, in a conversation, it is not helpful and can communicate that you do not value the other’s opinion.

11. Practice empathy.

Empathy, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, is the most important characteristic of active listening. It is a skill that is not used as often as needed, but it needs to be present in all conversations. The clarifying questions and statements mentioned above can demonstrate empathy, but your body language and facial expressions can do the same.

Making eye contact, turning toward, mirroring another’s facial expressions are all ways to show empathy. You may not understand what another is experiencing, but that is unnecessary when practicing empathy.

12. Pay attention to nonverbal cues.

The majority of communication is nonverbal, so be careful not to miss important nonverbal cues, such as:

  • The other person’s level of eye contact
  • Crossed arms or an open-body stance
  • Tone of voice
  • Facial expressions
  • Muscle tension
  • Facial redness
  • The pace of the conversation
  • Fidgeting

The meaning of each of these will be unique to each individual. For example, one person could struggle with eye contact because of social anxiety while another is being dishonest. One may have crossed arms because she is cold and another because he is angry. One may have a naturally loud tone of voice while another only speaks loudly when upset.

Some may be fast talkers, and others only talk fast when anxious. Pay attention closely to what they are not saying. You may learn much more than simply focusing on their words. If you notice a posture or facial expression and are confused by the meaning, simply ask a clarifying question. The other person will then have the chance to correct.

Practicing active listening skills on a regular basis with people in your life will be one of the best determining factors for healthy relationships. Not only is this true, but it is also true that when you intentionally listen in this way, others will respect and listen to you, too.

It models for others how you would like them to treat you. Jesus demonstrated these skills all throughout his journey on earth, always stopping what he was doing, asking questions, and letting the other person speak before jumping in. He gave the world the perfect model of listening, and it would be wise to follow his example.

Photos:
“Smile”, Courtesy of Bewakoof.com Official, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “1st Corinthians 13”, Courtesy of Leighann Renee, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Handshake”, Courtesy of Sincerely Media, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fairy Light Heart”, Courtesy of Fadi Xd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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