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Growth & Self-Esteem

5 Steps to Be an Active Listener

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So often, we are focused on how, when, and why to speak. As emotionally complex creatures, we have so much to say about where we are, how we’re feeling, and where we want to go.

But this ignores an equally important part of human communication — listening.

Without becoming a competent and skilled listener, you will soon find yourself without friends to speak with.

Additionally, the Bible has one or two important things to say about listening that are worth consideration.

So, join us as we run through what active listening is, practical steps on how to do it, and why it's so enriching.

What is ‘active listening’?

Active listening is the important skill of offering undivided attention to a speaker. It also includes using a broad set of communicative techniques to encourage honesty and infer the underlying emotions behind what a speaker is saying. 

Active listening skills are formally employed by clinical psychologists for more effective communication. Psychologists use them to show their patients that they hear and understand their main points with an open mind. 

This allows the psychologist and patient to arrive at the problem-solving stage with a clear idea of what the patient is experiencing. 

As essential as the skill is in clinical settings, good listening is also hugely beneficial in our personal lives to break down barriers of understanding and empathy in our relationships. 

Becoming an active listener is a selfless act of love and kindness. It allows you to help ease the psychological troubles your close ones might be having, helping to deepen your relationships with them. 

People consoling a man

As Christians, we have a moral duty of service to extend to our communities. In that respect, here are some of the primary techniques of active listening and how to perform them.

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How to be an active listener

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While many think of listening as a natural ‘gift’ that some people have and some people don’t, anyone can become an effective listener and communicator with the right techniques and practice. 

Here’s where to start.

1. Offer your undivided attention

Active listening is different from passive listening in that you, as the listener, intend to reflect that you hear and understand what the speaker is saying. 

To achieve that, you must start by offering nothing less than your undivided attention. When loved ones or co-workers approach you about a personal problem, eliminate potential distractions. 

Put your phone in the other room, turn off the TV, offer face-to-face attention, and be present

The visual connection lets your speaking partner know that you are listening to what they are saying, which encourages more honesty. 

2. Give supportive nonverbal feedback

Even though the goal of active listening is simply to listen, there’s room as a listener to interject non-verbally on occasion in order to express your sustained attention and encouragement.

A speaker might be discouraged from telling their full story if they feel that it’s too long or that you are beginning to lose interest. Show them that this isn’t the case by nodding in agreement, giving subtle affirmations like ‘yeah’ and ‘uh-huh’ at key moments in their speech, and perhaps offering a supportive touch of the hand for particularly troubling moments. 

3. Ask clarifying questions

A key element of active listening is the notion of understanding over just hearing.

Hearing would be silently listening to whatever the speaker is saying without interjection. But, as active listeners, we want to try and truly understand what the person is trying to express. To do this, we must ensure the details are correct and that we understand any confusing parts. 

If something doesn't make sense to you, or you identify something in the speech that entails more conversation, ask questions. It may be something as simple as ‘could you repeat that,’ or as in-depth as ‘why did [something] make you feel that way?’

4. Look for nonverbal communication

In his book “Nonverbal Communication,” body language researcher ​​Albert Mehrabian said that:  

"When there are inconsistencies between attitudes communicated verbally and posturally, the postural component should dominate in determining the total attitude that is inferred."

This means that, oftentimes, what a person truly feels is more accurately expressed by their body than by their speech. 

Man cupping his head in his hand

So, pay attention to their body language as well. It may differ from the content of their words, which would be worth investigating as an active listener. 

5. Reflect a summary of what they say

Our final technique is perhaps the most important in active listening — to simply reformulate what the speaker says and deliver it back. 

By summarizing the content of the speaker’s words and relaying it back to them, you are adhering to the golden rule of active listening, which is to express that you hear and understand their words. 

For example, if they say, “...then she left, and it made me feel angry and insecure,” then you might say something like, “So her leaving encouraged a feeling of abandonment.” 

Meditations on listening from the Bible

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Listening is a skill that’s referred to with great reverence across the Bible.

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5).

A common trait of all wise men is the ability to listen and understand. Listening well is a core component of learning, and learning, in turn, attracts wiser company. Learn to listen, and you’ll see yourself surrounded by increasingly intelligent partners with whom you can communicate and better yourself in the eyes of God.

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

The benefits of listening aren’t limited to the cognitive realm. As James points out in his gospel, the priority in social matters is to hear, not to speak. Only then can you understand the true nature of a person’s character and intentions and act accordingly.

Active listening can transform relationships

There’s a world of communication that we can so often disregard in today’s social media-fuelled world of distraction. 

When someone seeks your counsel, honor their vulnerability by being an active listener.

Pay attention to facial expressions, make eye contact, summarize their thoughts, and understand their nonverbal cues. Make the person feel understood, not just listened to. Your Christlike care and attention won’t go unnoticed. 

In turn, your relationships will become stronger, and you will be able to better serve the people in your life.

To always stay connected to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, download the app in the iOS App Store or on Google Play.

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