Most of us are unaware that we go through our daily lives in a kind of robotic, automatic pilot. We function in a sort of trance that makes us miss the important things in life and the important aspects of our interactions with other people. We talk to people in our family circle, our friends, and people we meet every day, but are we listening to them? Are we listening to our children, our parents, our friends and co-workers or are we just hearing what they have to say?
We may hear them speak to us, but if we are functioning in automatic pilot then probably we are not really listening to them
Listening is a skill
Listening moves us out of our tendency to be self-absorbed. Listening opens us to the rest of the world because it allows us to learn and grow. Listening does not come naturally. It is a skill and it takes effort to learn.
Many people do not realize that they are not really listening. They hear what is being said to them, but they do not pay attention. When we know how to listen, we benefit from being listened to in return. Listening is quite difficult to do nowadays, especially when there’s so much more clutter around us. There are so many distractions that hinder our ability to listen such as social media, smartphones, and all sorts of gadgets. Often, we also carry our worries and other mental clutter when we engage in conversations with others.
Active listening is an art
Active listening is an art. It is one way of encouraging receptive behavior in a conversation, making way for true communication between individuals to happen. When interacting with children, for example active listening is a good strategy to use in creating an environment that is ripe for building mutual trust and respect. Active listening is a powerful tool when used effectively by parents and teachers. Children can be taught this strategy even at an early age so that they grow up knowing the value of listening.
Active listening is not as difficult as it seems. It is not a complicated process either. Children who are introduced to this approach are taught three critical elements, namely:
- eye contact
- a pause before the response
- asking open-ended questions
A little active listening exercise
- Eye contact is essential in establishing a connection between two individuals and critical in how they engage in interpersonal communication. Eye contact may be a simple gesture but this signifies that he or she has one’s full attention.
- The second part is hearing the other person and pausing before the response. Implementing this step is a means of avoiding cutting off the other person in mid-sentence which often happens when we anticipate what the other person is going to say.
- The third element, asking open-ended questions, sets the state for either a “yes” or “no” response, or the question asked could create room for more conversation.
To be an effective listener, we need to put our opinions and thoughts aside. We need to learn how to listen to understand as opposed to merely listening in order to prove a point. Effective listening also involves making the effort to observe non-verbal cues and determine the underlying message.