Recently when coaching a couple regarding their communication I heard myself comment on their way of engaging with each other when listening and heard myself say: “You don’t need to say much in order for someone to feel really listened to.” Having said that, there are some things you need to do or say, even when you are the listener. Let’s have a closer look at the communication rules of active listening.
Rules for Active Listeners:
- Maintain contact, depending on cultural traditions this can be eye contact or sitting together
- Focus on what the other person is saying
- Make sure you have open body language or try mirroring the speaker’s body language (without mimicking)
- Use non-verbal cues (mm-hm, ah, OK) to let the other know you are listening
- Put your agenda, your thoughts, to the side while listening
- Reflect back to the other person what you think they meant
- Do not simply rely on your assumption of what you understood, check with the other person
Don’ts for Active Listeners:
- Do not simply stare at the other person
- Do not pretend to listen, it will show
- If you notice you’re thinking, for example about your to-do list, stop
- Do not use unsupportive non-verbal cues like rolling your eyes, sneering, crossing your arms in front of your chest or sighing
If you happen to do those things, it’s best to apologize by saying something like: “I’m sorry, I was just absent for a moment” and refocus. You can be sure that if you are not interested but pretend to be, the speaker will notice something not quite right.
Are you listening?
There are some reactions you will notice in your conversation when the other person does not feel listened to. They will either repeat themselves, try and make eye contact with you, look doubtful, get irritated or frustrated or blatantly ask the question: “Are you listening?” This is the cue for the listener that they haven’t followed the rules above.
People who don’t feel heard or understood tend to repeat themselves, speak more than needed and look for affirmation from the listener. If you feel overwhelmed at the amount of talking, you as the listener are required to be honest and say so. Say something like: “Too much information, I’m overwhelmed! Can you summarize that?” or “I am overwhelmed and I can’t take more in, can we speak about this a bit later again?”
You don’t need to say much, to make someone feel listened to. You need to show up, be present and suspend your agenda for later. Simply said, but not easily done.
Remember that every conversation you have is training in being a good and honest listener. It means a lot to most people to feel listened to, which is why many people search out counsellors and coaches and are happy to pay them so they are fully listened to.