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Active Listening: Making Others Feel Heard

Posted on 28/05/2018 by Marie Swarbreck

Active Listening: Making Others Feel Heard 

by Dr. Esslin L Terrighena, Mind Balance                                                                         

       










She always interrupts me.” - “He never listens.”

One of the most common complaints in relationship conflict is not feeling heard. Whether we are overly eager to bring forward a solution, angry at being accused or just have too many things on our minds: we sometimes fail to patiently lend that open ear when it is needed most. As a result, our partners, friends or colleagues may withdraw and arguments remain unresolved, or worse, conflicts escalate. Such escalation can often be avoided by applying some simple active listening techniques.

Active listening takes place when we focus full attention on our conversation partner, listen with genuine interest, acknowledge their feelings and experiences, and reflect what we have understood back to them. As listeners, we play an active role in the communication process as we continuously construct meaning from the messages we receive – a meaning which can be biased by our own thoughts and assumptions. When we listen with purpose, we aim to step aside from these and withhold judgment, in order to understand the perceived reality of the other person. By doing so, we can build rapport and encourage further disclosure. Research has shown that attentive, non-judgmental listening enhances interpersonal relationships by making people feel cared for, supported, and valued.

Here are five key elements of active listening that we can use to really hear what someone is trying to tell us:

1

Show our conversation partner that they have our undivided attention.

  • Maintain eye contact and an open, welcoming body posture.

  • Respond with nods and context-appropriate facial expressions.

  • Concentrate on what our conversation partner is saying both verbally and non-verbally.

2

Maintain a non-judgmental attitude.

  • Adopt the mind-set of learning something from our conversation partner.

  • Regulate the urge to voice our viewpoint - there will be time later to express ourselves.

  • Become aware of our emotional triggers and remind ourselves that this is the other person’s story, not ours.

3

Reflect back to our conversation partner what feelings we have perceived in them.

  • Validate the emotional reality that the conversation partner is experiencing. This does not mean we have to agree with their version of events, rather we are acknowledging their perception.

“It sounds to me like you are feeling frustrated about what happened yesterday.”

“I understand you feel anxious, because you are not sure whether you have made the right decision.”

4

Clarify rather than assume.

  • Ask closed questions (yes/no) to clarify our understanding

“You are sad, because your partner has been distant. Is that right?”

  • Ask open questions to encourage elaborations

“How do you feel about that?”

“What happened next?”

  • Use direct encouragements

“Tell me a bit more about how this has affected you.”

5

Summarize what we have understood from our conversation partner.

  • Paraphrase what our conversation partner has told us in our own words

  • “So, the last few times you arranged to meet your friend, she cancelled last minute, which has made you think that perhaps she is not as invested in your friendship as you are?”


Concentrating on the other person with openness and curiosity will help us to explore and understand their viewpoint, and fine-tune our empathy and compassion. Further, by thoroughly gathering information, we can subsequently seek solutions that resonate positively with our conversation partners, rather than attempting to push generic suggestions onto unique circumstances. Importantly, with patience and attentiveness, we can actively make other people feel heard, respected and valued for who they are. Thus, opening up our ears and hearts not only can facilitate conflict resolution, but also lets us discover more about the people around us to form deeper, more meaningful connections.