Active listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced. The use of active listening skills in marriage and family life helps family members feel loved and validated.
The first step in active listening is making a commitment to learn and practice the skills! Family members can motivate themselves to put the time into active listening by realizing the positive emotional payoff that will take place. We all want to feel loved and validated for our thoughts and feelings, but will we actually make the effort to give and receive love though active listening?
Assuming the commitment is there, what is the first step toward learning and practicing active listening? The first step is to eliminate all distractions. How many of us are tempted to listen to a loved one while watching television or on the computer? If we do that, we will short circuit the listening process. Active listening needs to take place in an atmosphere where the participants are totally focused on each other.
The second step is to do what psychologists call “being in the moment.” That is, the listener is physically present to the speaker, making eye contact with the speaker and standing or sitting close to the speaker. The listener is also focusing their attention on the speaker. This means the listener has to set aside any internal distractions (i.e. thinking about something else while listening to the speaker) and hearing not only the actual words of the speaker, but the feelings and meanings behind the words. The listener should not be preparing their response to the speaker until the listener understands fully what the speaking is saying.
The third step is for listener to “mirror” the speaker, that is to repeat the words of the speaker to make sure the words were heard accurately. The listener should attempt to go as deep as possible with mirroring. In addition to repeating the words, the active listener should seek to hear the emotions behind the words as well as the theme of the words. What is the speaker really trying to say? What is it that the speaker wants the listener to know about the issue that is being discussed.
For example, a wife says to a husband, “I was disappointed that you didn’t call me to tell me you would be coming home late from work..I was concerned about you.” The active listener’s response: “I’m hearing that you were disappointed that I didn’t call you to tell you I would be late. You were concerned that maybe something had happened. You don’t like being left in the dark.” At that point, the wife feels validated.
Active listening. Like the old commercial says, “try it, you’ll like it!”