Importance of Listening in Relationships and How to be an Active Listener
I’m a professional listener.
I help people resolve longstanding, intractable disputes in their personal and professional relationships. As you might imagine, this job is all about communication and helping people understand each other and become understood. And that, of course, starts with listening.
Listening is so important in relationships, and that’s true in both our business and our personal lives. A lot of people consider themselves good listeners, but surprisingly few of them have really perfected the fine art of listening and responding effectively.
The first thing to remember is that good listeners respond reflectively. This means that when someone tells you something, you respond by restating what they just said, briefly, in your own words, without judgment.
Nobody likes to be confronted, so the first thing you might feel when someone addresses you with a problem is a flash of anger. If you respond with anger, you’ve just escalated the situation into a major argument. And that, of course, won’t get either of you any closer to resolving the actual problem.
Instead, be the person who sets the stage for a calm discussion. Calmly let the other person know that you hear him by paraphrasing what he is telling you. It’s really hard to yell at someone right after they show you that they are listening and really understand what you’re saying.
A good listener keeps the response short and concise, focusing on the heart of the matter. If you consistently practice paraphrasing, you’ll soon develop a sense of what the most important part of the message is, and mirror that back to the other person in your own words.
But there’s more to active listening than summarizing what the person is worried or angry about. It’s equally important to let them know that you understand how they feel. And that’s an active listening technique called reflecting feelings.
This is similar to paraphrasing because you are mirroring what the person is saying, in a concise way. But this time, the focus is on the person’s emotions, whether they are angry, sad, ambivalent, excited, or something else entirely.
You’re not saying you know how they feel, because honestly, none of us can get inside another person’s head and really experience how they are feeling. You’re simply saying that you perceive how they are feeling, and you get it.
When you acknowledge how the other person is feeling and put it into words, that person no longer needs to prove it to you by expressing it. You might even help them understand or clarify their own emotions, which takes you both one step closer to solving the issue at hand.