Active Listening is not an easy skill to learn. Most people in their relationships are accustomed to telling, questioning, judging, reassuring, arguing, disagreeing and other such roadblocks. Few have had any direct experience using this remarkable communication skill or being in a relationship in which someone else is using it with them.
For these reasons it takes a great deal of practice. However, unlike a lot of other skills people try to acquire, Active Listening (<-short video demo) gives learners immediate evidence of the quality of their Active Listening. If one’s Active Listening accurately mirrors back the sender’s message, the sender will say something like: “Yeah,” “That’s right,” “I sure do feel that way,” “That’s exactly the way I feel.”
However, if one’s Active Listening is not accurate, senders will respond with something like: “No,” “Not really,” “It’s more like…,” “That’s not what I meant.” And following such negative responses senders usually repeat their first message, somewhat modified or strengthened to help you understand.
This means that people can teach themselves to become skilled Active Listeners by doing it frequently and listening to the feedback they immediately get from the senders.
Okay, that sounds good–now what are some of the benefits of this AH-mazing skill?
1. It is your check on the accuracy of your decoding.
2. It proves to the sender that not only have you heard, you have understood.
3. It tells the sender you can accept him/her as a troubled person (s/ he doesn’t have to be perfect to be accepted), that you can accept him/her with intense feelings and thoughts.
NOTE: The key word here is accept (i.e., the sender’s behaviors are in the top of the Behavior Window), not agree with. You can accept him/her having a feeling you might not have or a thought you don’t agree with while you let him/her own the problem-solving process.
4. It gives the sender a chance to ventilate, to feel relieved, to have catharsis. When feelings are expressed and accepted, they tend to be less overwhelming for the person and become less disabling. When held in, feelings tend to remain strong and fester (as opposed to the notion that if one listens to and accepts another’s feelings, those feelings will get out of hand).
5. Active Listening fosters the other doing his or her own problem definition and problem-solving. It keeps the responsibility with the sender, yet the listener remains involved.
6. It relieves “emotional flooding” and frees the intellect to get back to work.
7. It fosters the sender moving from superficial to the deeper, more basic problem.