The Impact of Active Listening in Communication
Wanting to feel heard is a natural and common human desire. It stems from the need for validation, understanding, and connection. There is a big difference between listening to someone and hearing someone. We often gravitate to people who we know genuinely listen and acknowledge us when we want to express our thoughts, feelings, or experiences.
You may have friends that listen to you rabble on for hours, but when you leave there is a sense of dissatisfaction, like they didn’t really get you. Yet someone else may give you less time, but the time feels more valuable somehow. This is the difference between listening and hearing.
When someone hears you, it brings a sense of validation. It affirms your thoughts, emotions, and experiences as valid and important. This validation boosts self-esteem, confidence, and your sense of self-worth, knowing that your voice matters. Because hearing goes beyond listening, it involves others making the effort to understand your perspective and empathise with your feelings. When someone hears you, there is a feeling of connection, knowing that they genuinely comprehend your thoughts and emotions.
The Need to Feel Heard
The need to feel heard is deeply rooted in our desire for connection, understanding, and self-expression. It is a vital component of effective communication and healthy relationships. Feeling heard helps people convey their ideas, concerns, and desires clearly. This builds authentic relationships. When others actively listen, it encourages open and honest communication, leading to better understanding and the potential for constructive dialogue.
Feeling heard provides emotional support during challenging times. When you share your struggles or insecurities with someone who listens attentively and offers empathy, it is incredibly comforting. It helps alleviate feelings of loneliness, isolation, or stress, and provides space for emotional release.
Feeling heard strengthens connections and nurtures relationships. When friends, family members, or partners actively listen, it deepens bonds and fosters a sense of closeness. Feeling heard allows individuals to feel seen, understood, and valued within their relationships.
Most humans desire feeling heard, therefore, it is important to actively listen to others. By cultivating a culture of mutual listening and respect, it creates an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and valued.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a communication technique that involves fully focusing on, understanding, and engaging with a speaker during a conversation. It goes beyond simply hearing the words being spoken, and involves giving complete attention to the speaker, both verbally and non-verbally.
Active listening requires the listener to be present in the moment, so set aside distractions, and show genuine interest in the speaker’s message. Active listening is a skill that you can learn and develop. Some facets of active listening include:
Paying attention: Actively concentrate on the speaker and their words, maintain eye contact, and avoid distractions.
Withholding judgment: Avoid making premature judgments or assumptions about the speaker’s message or intentions. Stay open-minded and listen without bias.
Reflecting: Provide feedback to the speaker to show understanding and encourage further elaboration. Rather than opinions, advice or your own experiences, paraphrase or summarise what you heard to ensure accurate comprehension.
Clarifying: Seek clarification, when necessary, by asking relevant questions to gain a clearer understanding of the speaker’s message. This helps prevent misunderstandings.
Empathising: Try to show understanding of the speaker’s perspective and emotions, with empathy and acknowledgement of their feelings. This fosters deeper connection and trust between the listener and the speaker.
Providing feedback: Respond to the speaker’s message appropriately, verbally and non-verbally. This includes nodding, maintaining an open body posture, and using verbal cues like “I see,” “I understand,” or asking follow-up questions.
How does active listening work?
Active listening works through a combination of verbal and non-verbal behaviours that demonstrate attentiveness, understanding, and engagement with the speaker. The first step of active listening is giving the speaker your full attention. When you eliminate distractions, maintain eye contact, and show genuine interest in their words, you create a focused and receptive mindset.
By using verbal and non-verbal cues, they will feel you fully engage. Nodding your head, smiling, maintaining an open body posture, and using appropriate facial expressions all convey attentiveness and engagement. The more the speaker feels heard, the more inclined they’ll feel to continue sharing their thoughts. Although it’s important to show you’re listening with small verbal cues, it’s important to avoid interrupting. Hold space for the speaker to express their thoughts without interruption. As hard as it may be, interrupting disrupts the train of thought and causes some people to feel unheard or disregarded. Instead, maintain patience and wait for appropriate pauses to contribute or ask clarifying questions.
Reflecting the speaker’s message by paraphrasing or summarising their words, lets them know you’ve heard them. It also helps ensure you understand their message correctly, and provides the opportunity for clarification of any misconceptions. It also demonstrates active processing and internalising of their words.
Open-ended questions will encourage the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. An open-ended question prompts the respondent to provide a detailed and unrestricted response. Unlike closed-ended questions that you can answer with a simple “yes” or “no” or require specific information, open-ended questions encourage individuals to promote deeper exploration of the topic and provide the speaker with the opportunity to share more details or insights. This demonstrates a genuine interest in their perspective.
The Benefits of Active Listening
When you acknowledge the feelings of the speaker, validate their perspective, and avoid judgment or dismissive responses, you show empathy and validation. This creates a safe and supportive environment for open communication.
Active listening means listening without letting personal biases or distractions interfere with your understanding of the speaker’s message. Be aware of your own preconceived notions and actively work to suspend judgment. Approach the conversation with an open mind and respond appropriately.
Active listening is a dynamic process that requires continuous effort and practice. By employing these techniques, you can enhance your listening skills, foster better communication, and build stronger connections with others.