How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindful Living Can Change Your Life
Mindfulness 101: A Beginner's Guide
You know the feeling when you're talking with someone and you realize they’re not really listening to you? Maybe they keep looking around the room or at their phone, fidget in their seat, or constantly interrupt?
It can be maddening. Even worse, it can make you feel pretty lousy, like what you have to say isn’t interesting or important enough for them to just … listen.
Active listening is an important interpersonal skill that involves keeping your focus on the person speaking, with the intention of understanding both what’s being said and the other person’s perspective. Considered one of the “soft skills,” it’s actually a key people skill, signaling acknowledgment and respect and conveying to someone: I see you, I hear you, I’m interested in your experience, what you think, and what you have to share.
Active listening is an interactive technique whereby the listener has the goal of understanding what the other person is saying, and uses verbal and nonverbal messages to convey interest. It involves paying attention, making eye contact, asking questions and seeking clarification, and then reflecting back the key points of what you’ve heard and responding thoughtfully.
Passive listening is listening without providing feedback or asking questions. It’s a form of one-way communication, what might happen when listening to a presentation, for example. It is also sometimes also used in therapeutic applications.
Use gestures, such as nodding or leaning forward; expressions, such as smiling or raising your eyebrows in surprise; or brief verbal acknowledgments (“I see,” “Oh no,” “How interesting!”) to show that you’re listening and interested, and to encourage the speaker to continue.
Of course, your reactions should be natural to you. This isn’t about acting and pretending to listen; it is about being a good listener.
If the speaker says something that you don’t understand, gently interrupt, if appropriate, to seek clarification.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know that area well. Where exactly were you?”
Importantly, once you have the answer, encourage the person to continue.
“Got it. You were saying?”
If the speaker is in the middle of something and it doesn’t seem like a good time to interrupt, wait until there’s a natural pause. You might even use your hand or a facial expression to signal your confusion, and when they notice, ask for clarification.
“Earlier, you mentioned that your sister came with you. Does she live nearby?”
When the speaker finishes, it can be helpful to reflect back any key points that you’ve heard, either using similar language or your own ideas.
“So, you felt relieved when this happened.”
“Wow, that would have made my day!”
Frame your response to show that you’ve been listening and that you heard what the person wanted to share. Offer your perspective or your own opinion if it’s useful, but you might also simply acknowledge their experience.
“Something similar happened to me once. I remember feeling really conflicted about it. It sounds like that was what it was like for you, too.”
Or simply: “That must have been really strange for you.”
Asking someone questions lets them know that you’re interested in what they have to say, and encourages them to share more about themselves. Try to ask open-ended questions rather than those that can be answered with just “Yes” or “No,” or a combination of both.
“I bet that’s not what you expected. What did you think might happen instead?”
“You sound pretty on the fence about this. What would be a better fit?”
“How did you deal with that?”
When we’re mentally preparing our response and simply waiting for someone to stop talking so we can jump in and finally add our .02, we can miss a lot of what’s been said. Pausing before you speak can help you become more aware of your own urges to turn the conversation back to you.
During this pause, look at the speaker and notice how they left off. Is what you wanted to say still relevant? Tune into your body, and take a full breath. Then respond thoughtfully from this place of self-awareness.
Active listening is one of the best people skills you can develop to get along with others and to deepen trust and understanding. This is true for personal relationships and professional relationships alike. Being an active listener can even make interactions with strangers richer and more enjoyable. It’s amazing what you learn when you really listen to other people!
It’s not a stretch to say that if we could all listen with the intention of understanding and being curious about others’ perspectives and experiences, there would be far less division in the world.
Active listening in your relationships allows you to really hear what someone is communicating to you, which might be very different than what you expect. It encourages you to stay open and to ask questions in order to understand the other person’s perspective.
Listening matters in any relationship, and especially with those who we care for and want to be close with. Being truly listened to makes us feel heard and seen. It creates a sense of safety, where we can drop our defenses and be more honest and vulnerable.
And it’s often reciprocal. When we feel heard and understood, we’re more receptive to listening to someone else.
Actively listening to every child in a classroom isn’t always easy, but research suggests that it's worth educators’ effort to practice (and model) active listening skills and techniques whenever possible.
Listening to students:
How to do it:
It's clear that learning to be a good listener is an essential interpersonal skill that benefits us throughout our lives. For children, the importance can’t be overstated. The ability to listen well increases language acquisition, critical thinking skills, the ability to communicate their own ideas, and empathy.
One study found that students who are better listeners retain more information and feel less frustrated in school. It also improves kids’ belief that they can succeed academically.
Active listening takes practice, so the more opportunities kids have to work on their listening skills, the better.
People have very different communication styles, which can make miscommunication and its partner, misunderstanding, all too easy. In the workplace, active listening is one of the highly valued soft skills that helps us navigate different communication styles and personalities. This matters for building relationships, working in teams, managing others, problem solving, and working toward common goals.
Active listening at work:
As any parent knows, there is often more going on than what your child tells you. Sometimes this is due to kids not yet having the language or emotional skills to express what they mean. Sometimes they may not want to say too much out of fear or worry about the outcome.
Using the tools and techniques of active listening can give you insight into what’s happening in your child’s world at the moment and lays the groundwork for future communication.
Importantly, listening doesn’t mean fixing. A key principle of active listening is to withhold judgment and to let the conversation flow organically instead of trying to guide it to meet an agenda.
Like anyone, kids sometimes need to express themselves aloud to sort out their feelings. Through active listening, your role is as a sounding board, affirming their experience and allowing them to process. Of course, by listening critically, you’ll also gain a better understanding of when you do need to step in to help and when it's OK to let them work it out for themselves.
Learning to be a better listener may take some time, but with practice, you will get there!
It can help to remember the following tips:
Listen with the intention of understanding
Yes. Anyone can learn to be a better listener at any time in their life. But it’s not something you just read about and then do. It takes time to change behaviors, and critical listening is a behavior.
It may feel strange or even uncomfortable to try and do something you’ve done your entire life—like listen—differently. But it gets easier with practice. Consider getting a conversation partner, and start practicing these active listening techniques with each other.
Active listening is the opposite of being caught up in your own head. It requires shifting your attention away from yourself and holding it on someone else. That’s not always easy to do! We usually find our own experience and perspective more comfortable, interesting, or even safer.
As a social or relationship-building skill, active listening is essential. But unless your family or community valued listening or, like shaking hands or waiting for others to begin eating, taught it as a form of etiquette, you may not have had a model for it.
And let’s face it, listening, in general, is far less common in the world today. We’re all about communicating our message, promoting our brand, making ourselves heard. We shout over one another in person and on social media, jockeying to have the last word.
It can also feel uncomfortable to just be quiet and keep your attention on someone else; to resist weighing in, share your own ideas or opinion, or allow for silence while the speaker gathers their thoughts.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “people person,” are shy, or if listening to and reading others has been difficult for you in the past, the skill of active listening is learnable. And just like any mindfulness technique, it gets easier with practice.
The benefits—for your relationships, professional life, social interactions, and for simply feeling more comfortable and connected in the world—are well worth your effort.
Both. Active listening involves verbal communication (asking questions, vocalizing acknowledgement or other sounds in response to what’s being said, and reflecting back in your own words what you’ve heard) and nonverbal communication (nodding, using facial expressions and body language to communicate understanding or another reaction).
Enjoy these articles, stories, and guided practices for incorporating mindfulness into every day.
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