- Dr. Teresa Edwards
The Art of Listening, Part 1
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 listened to, accepted and cared for simply by being there for us. They look us in the eyes, sit beside us, 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.
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 attending to what they have to say. This can be done through body language, such as making eye contact and nodding your head to show that you are listening, and conveying empathy, understanding, and respect. The listener can convey these characteristics by asking open-ended questions and following up on the responses of the speaker. An example of an open-ended question is, "Tell me why this is so important to you." Things to avoid when tuning in are being judgmental, critical, and defensive, and trying to fix or manage the speaker's problem.
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. 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.
Active listening is a necessary skill for meaningful communication and healthy relationships. With some practice, we could even become as good as our four-legged friends at listening.
For more information on listening, check out The Art of Listening, Part 2.