Positive active listening skills and how to develop them is an important skill. A skill i liken to knowing how to drive, swim, interact socially etc. Some years ago while in counseling school, i could remember my teacher giving me a written case scenario and then asking me to figure out what the victim was going through. My first impulse was to always go for the obvious and this always turned out wrong. The real test was in not just reading and using my imagination to figure out the answer but rather to listen to what is not being said.
In communication, the moment you learn to listen with your ears and observe with your entire being, you have truly learnt. – Temple Obike
I’ve sat through quite a number of sessions to confidently assert that poor communication in marriages and relationships constitutes 35% of the reasons most marriages break up. Becoming an active listener will help you mitigate the risk of unnecessary altercations with your spouse or partner. When you become an active listener, you learn how to thoroughly soak in, comprehend, respond and retain whatever has been said to you. On a much deeper level, professionals whose jobs entail listening are also taught to pay close attention to the speaker’s behavior and body language in order to gain a better understanding of their message.
The 6 active listening skills you need are;
1. Learn to Truly Pay attention.
When you listen to anyone, your major objective is to ensure that the person speaking is comfortable enough to think about their speech. Don’t listen for anything you can hold on to, get angry about so you could immediately object to or challenge it. This simply makes you cut off the person speaking and affects your concentration because you are already putting in a whole lot of effort in crafting your feedback rather than listening. Respect the person speaking with you by ensuring that your body language isn’t showing or telling them something else like; I’m bored, i’d rather be somewhere else, please hurry up etc.
Available on Podcast:
2. Don’t be in a Hurry to Judge Them.
If there is something that can never be said too much, it’s the fact that we need to learn everyday/ If you approach every conversation with an open mindset positioned to learn, you could be doing yourself the favor of a lifetime. Always be open to new ideas even within an arguement. Do not let the fact that you have a strong rational view-point disuade you from listening. A good listener will always suspend Judgement and criticism to listen.
3. Stay in a Reflective Mind-state.
Listening is an art and must be approached as such. Never assume you know where your spouse or partner is going. This is the hardest part of active listening. That point within a discussion where you believe the direction of a discussion or arguement is clear. Rather than interrupting, mirror the information and speak on the key points of this discussion. I always advice clients to have a pen and piece of paper as nothing makes a partner, especially one that is complaining believe that their points are sinking in (i use this one with madam and she likes it). While listening, you can then further mention some key points back at them for clarity (a point we’ll discuss at lenght shortly). These simple reflective gestures show your partner that you understand them. For a partner or spouse who at this point seems to NOT be effectively communicating, assist them in clearly labeling their feelings.
4. Always Seek for Clarity.
When listening to a partner or a spouse, never think that keeping quiet and listening to them will save you time so you can leave. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make as a partner because a spouse who feels like their partner doesn’t consider their view-points seriously will always seek out someone else who will. One of the main reasons a counselors office is full is simply because someone somewhere didn’t listen or still isn’t. Always ask questions that clarify. You can always ask these questions in a manner that isn’t intrusive or confrontational.
A simple “Tell me if i’m clear on what you said..? or “Please could you say mention this part again as i’m trying to understand it better…”. could help improve the quality of discussion and feedback to follow. These encourage the person speaking to self reflect instead of trying to defend themselves. The point of defense is where discussions fall off the cart and communication shuts down. This simple activity of seeking clarity helps with this because you are shifting the emphasis on asking a question rather than trying to tell your partner something.
When you ask an open-ended, non-confrontational question, you get an answer but when you “TELL THEM” you get resistance and may be perceived as judging them. – Temple Obike
5. Summarize Everything.
In point 3 we spoke about restating key points. This simply shows that you understood everything you were being told. Further to this, summarizing everything sets the stage for the next steps of the discussion. It is also important that your spouse or partner does the same to enable both parties allign in communication.
6. It’s now Time to Share Your feelings.
As an active listener, the first thing you need to do is understand the other person. Then you also seek to be understood. With this clear understanding of what the other party is saying, your next step is to introduce your suggestions and thought-process on the matter at hand. Once you and your spouse have discussed this at lenght, the next step will be problem-solving. At this point, it would be important to note that your stand point should always be one of suggestions and not disctating solutions. If you are perceived to be dictating a solution, it pulls down every effort put in from steps 1 to 5.
How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills
Many leaders and leaders-in-transit usually struggle with active listening due to the ernomous activities they pack into a day. Sometimes, their ego also affects their ability to accept criticism, be emphatic and understanding of other peoples view-point. On their best day, when they consciously try to be present during discussions, that simple glance at your mobile device or the body language that says you cannot wait to exit are dead give aways.
If you notice some of the following points i will be mentioning below, you may need to brush up your active istening skills.
- You barely wait for people to finish their narrative before you advice them
- You find yourself always thinking about the smart response you have to give rather than listening to what someone is saying
- You Feel nsulted when people do not agree with your views
- You do most of the talking in a discussion
- You get easily distracted by your mobile device, tv or other activities
- You try to multi-task during the course of a conversation
Do some of the points mentioned above sound uncomfortably familiar to you? Well if they don’t, you are an active listener but if they do, you are not alone. Here are some important tips that can help you see if you are improving your active listening skill-sets.
- Avoid anything that could distract you. Kill the sounds from the TV, mobile device and anything else that poses a measure of distraction. This ensures that you pay full attSilence any technology and move away from distractions so that you can pay full attention to the other person. This also helps you notice their body language amongst many other things.
- Be Present and Listen to What They are Saying. Always ensure that you can always repeat the last thing they mentioned if asked. This helps you stay focused. Every statement counts.
- Silence shouldn’t be Uncomfortable. When you notice there’s silence between conversation, the listener in you should never interprete that as uncomfortable. Instead see it as an opportunity to collect your thoughts and not one to reply, say something or do something.
- Encourage the other person to offer ideas and solutions before you give yours. You are the one who is listening more and doing less of the talking. This approach will only increase your ability to observe other things pertinent to the matter at hand.
- Confirm that the key points discussed are correct. After discussing, always ensure that the salient points discussed with your partner or spouse are revisited. This helps in dispeling confusion.
Written by Obike Temple.
Temple Obike is a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, author and psychotherapist who has counseled over one thousand, two hundred clients comprising of couples, individuals, abuse victims (substance, physical, emotional and sexual) and grief-stricken clients. With over 70,000 in-counseling minutes (1,000+ hours) accrued in practice. He runs his private psychotherapy & counseling practice out of Lagos, Nigeria and has counseling centers in Abuja and Port-Harcourt. His practice also provides options for both online and on-site services.
His private practice has positively empowered lives through his online counseling, podcasts, free advisory services and free online materials. Readership of his articles also receive a growing number of visitors alongside subscriptions to his email newsletter at templeobike.com. His passion for empowering and uncovering the secrets to lifelong marriages and personal development led to his new book titled “Soul Bodega” available on amazon and across other online and traditional stores.
Never give up on yourself! You are a journey happening through various destinations.