When communicating, it can be easy to focus more on what we are saying than how we are listening. If we are not truly hearing what someone is saying to us, then communication is not successful and misunderstandings occur.
While listening may seem straight forward, there are many ways to practice poor listening skills that you may not recognize are barriers to really understanding someone. Some examples of poor listening habits include when you are distracted while someone is speaking, planning your response in your head before someone finishes what they are saying, or responding judgmentally to what someone has shared. Being mindful of the lens you view the world through can increase your awareness of any bias informing how you interpret and respond to information.
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If you have had poor listening habits, no need to worry. Active listening is a skill you can build with practice and commitment. Here are some tips on how to practice active listening2:
- Be aware of your nonverbal cues. Even when we aren’t verbally contributing to a conversation, we are contributing through our body language or subtle sounds we might make to indicate our engagement.
- As I mentioned above, judgment gets in the way of understanding someone. When you want to make someone feel heard, drop the judgment and know that you do not need to take a stance by agreeing or disagreeing with what’s being said.
- Focus on the present moment by devoting your attention to the speaker rather than distractions. It’s easy to get lost in thought if we aren’t making an effort to be present. There is so much information we can absorb when we are really hearing someone, such as changes in their tone of voice or body language.
- Reflect back what you are hearing to make sure you are understanding. This shows someone that you are following what they are saying, and if you reflect back inaccurately, it provides an opportunity for clarification.
- Dive deeper by asking questions about their experience. This shows that you have not only been following what someone is saying, but that you are interested in learning more about their perspective.
There are many reasons to cultivate active listening skills. It will likely improve your relationships and it will help you understand others. Active listening has been found to be significantly associated with empathy.2
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
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