One of the most important skills, that I have to have in my job (guidance counselor), is the ability to listen. We paid a lot attention to it during our BA and MA studies. A good counsellor should be an active listener.
I've noticed, that being an active listener is not just for the counselors. It makes communication between people better. Well... it turns conversations into real communication.
I believe active listening could save marriages and friendships.
1. The right mindset
I read a really great quote on Pinterest (unfortunately I don't know whose it is):
"The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply."
I think this quote puts it perfectly; the goal of listening should ALWAYS be understanding. So when you're having a conversation do everything you can to understand not only what the other person is saying but what she/he is feeling and where she/he stands.
If you want to be an active listener, remind yourself, that everything doesn't have to (and should not) be about you. You don't need to bring up your own thoughts, experiences and opinions. Try to understand first!
Try to make the other people realise that you:
-want to hear her/him
-want to see her/him
-want to understand her/him
2. Ask. Don't assume
When we're having conversations, we often make conclusions and assumptions. If you want to be an active listener, you shouldn't do that, because that's not listening. That's you processing the information from your point of view. To avoid conclusions and assumptions, ask questions.
Try to ask questions, that encourage the other person to describe, analyse and reflect. Also try to avoid questions that have simple yes/no answers. This will help you to understand. Before making and assumptions, ASK.
Can you tell me more about that? How does that make you feel?
3. Show him/her you're listening
An active listener shows the other person, that she/he is listening AND hearing. There are many ways you can do that. We already talked about asking questions. Questions not only help you to understand and not to make assumptions but they also help you to show the other person that you are listening. Another great way is to repeat what you've heard in your own words.
Your friend: I don't know what I should do. I feel like... I'm so sick and tired of this whole thing. He refuses to come. And I need him to come. Don't you think he should come? I mean come on! It's my boss's birthday dinner and it would look so bad if I went there alone when everyone else brings their spouses. It's like he doesn't care.
You: So he's not coming to this thing, though you want him to. And it's making you frustrated, right?
Your friend: Yeah!
You can also show the other person you're listening non-verbally. Don't look distracted or absent. DON'T do anything with your phone. Nod, make appropriate facial expressions and "Mmm".
4. Listening is not judging
An active listener doesn't judge. We all have our own ideals, principals, believes and personal histories. If you want to be an active listener, you have to learn to identify them. Because if you can identify them, you can learn to prevent them from stop making you understand. Remember, you want to hear, see and understand. You want to see the issue through the other person's point of view.
Active listening doesn't mean that you have to give up your own ideals and believes. They are an important part of you. But when you want to listen, you're not the one you want to listen to.
It's important to remember, that it takes practice to become an active listener. It's a process and during that process you'll learn a lot about yourself. Though I'm a so-called professional listener, it's not easy for me. I'm still not perfect and I still have to practice it. I'm constantly training my mind to be an active listener. Number 4 is really hard for me. I have strong ideals and believes. They define me and my world. I need to work really hard not to let them interfere.
My favourite "listening guru" is Soren Kierkegaard. You should definitely read his thoughts and ideas.
These articles are great too: