Monday, June 17, 2013

An Introduction to the Active Listening Primer

351/365 Books are like mirrors by Iryna Yeroshko, cc license
Over the past few months, I've been doing some "conversation coaching," helping folks work through and prepare for a challenging conversation they're facing. I find myself coming back again and again to some basic active listening skills that go a long way to promote more direct, honest, and still compassionate communication. In my humble opinion, our world would be greatly improved if active listening was routinely taught, modeled, and practiced in our schools, places of work, and homes. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and so it can be useful to be introduced to (or be reminded of) alternative methods of communication. Hence, I thought it might be fun and useful to put forth my own primer on active listening skills.

The original concept of active listening, which may also be called reflective listening, empathetic listening or listening first aid, is commonly attributed to the American psychologist, Carl Rogers. Active listening provides the foundation for many skill sets including crisis intervention, conflict resolution and mediation, and negotiation. In my explorations, I've found overlap between active listening skills and concepts and other fields/areas, such as mindfulness, social emotional learning, and parenting guidance (to name a few).

The primary goal of active listening is to make the person you are listening to feel heard and understood. This goal is accomplished by clearly communicating what you hear and perceive. It's a way of communicating care and compassion, and when someone experiences active listening, s/he commonly feels more supported. Active listening can also diffuse intense emotional states and de-escalate tense interactions. It can lead to clarity in mucky situations and even decisions or resolutions.

You don't need to be working on a crisis hotline for active listening to be a useful tool. I would argue that all interactions with underlying emotions will benefit from some amount of active listening. It is especially useful when you are in conflict with someone else or any time you think it's important to to convey that you care about how the other person is feeling and what s/he is saying. It also makes that daily, "How was your day?" conversation much more interesting and satisfying.  

There are many books and manuals dedicated to active listening skills, in one form or another. Rather than recreating one one those tomes, I hope to offer bite-sized introductions (or reminders) of key active listening skills and easily digestible guides to put the skills into practice. Over the course of seven posts, I will cover:

Part 1: The Active Listening Mindset
Part 2: Basic Active Listening Skills

Ready to get started? Head on over to the first part of the Active Listening Mindset: Focus

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1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite training classes as well. And now I encourage my hospice volunteers to practice it as well. thank you Mary!