The Art of Listening, Part 1
Updated: May 26
We almost always feel better after having a long talk with one of our furry friends. But why? Maybe it's because animals are such great listeners. They have a way of making us feel heard, loved, and accepted. I think we could learn a few things about listening from our four-legged friends.
Our furry friends are experts at making us feel cared for simply by being there for us. They sit beside us, look us in the eyes, and let us talk without interrupting. They also never, ever try to fix our problems. Somehow, them just being there is enough.
Listening is an important component to every relationship. Being a master listener involves removing distractions that can hinder listening, empathizing, asking the right questions, and making the speaker feel heard and understood.
The Steps of Active Listening
To be ready to listen takes some preparation. Preparing to listen includes turning off the television, muting the phone, and removing any other distractions that could hinder your ability to really listen. Preparing also includes having the right mindset by shifting your focus off of yourself and your agenda, and onto the other person. Your goal is to really tune in to the speaker’s world and hear them, even if you don't agree with what they’re saying.
Tuning in to the speaker means being mentally and emotionally present and focusing on what they have to say. Tuning in can be demonstrated through body language, such as making eye contact and nodding your head to show that you are listening. Tuning in also involves focusing on what the speaker is saying, instead of preparing a response back in your mind.
QUESTIONS TO INCREASE UNDERSTANDING
The listener can show interest and get a better understanding of what's being said by asking open-ended questions. Examples of open-ended question are, "Why is this so important to you?" and "What are your hopes or fears about this situation?"
To really make the speaker feel heard and understood, it is important to let them know what you’ve heard them say. Reflecting involves repeating, in your own words, what you’ve heard and the meaning of what you've heard. This also involves validating the speaker’s emotions and experiences. Things to avoid when reflecting are being judgmental, critical, and defensive, and trying to fix or manage the speaker's problem.
Validating includes statements such as, “I can understand why you feel that way” or “I would feel the same way if that happened to me.” Again, refrain from offering suggestions or trying to fix the speaker’s problem. To make sure that the speaker feels heard and understood, ask "Is there anything else I need to know to understand?"
Active listening is a necessary skill for meaningful communication and healthy relationships. It can increase feelings of intimacy in a relationship and minimize misunderstandings. With some practice, we could even become as good as our four-legged friends at listening.