On Friday I attended a teacher training workshop, in particular the coach spoke about active listening. According to our good old friend Wikipedia "Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. This is opposed to reflective listening where the listener repeats back to the speaker what they have just heard to confirm understanding of both parties."
The workshop really got me thinking; how often do we listen to those speaking to us? Not just (as in my case) to students or work colleagues, but friends and family too. How often do you get distracted during a conversation? By technology, a random thought or your surroundings?
How often do you give your opinion or advice in a conversation when the person you're speaking to is telling you about a problem or difficult time they're facing? It's so easy to jump in with a "Well, If I were you..." or "I think you should..."
How often do you finish someone else's sentence or butt in, raising your voice above the other's?
How often do you talk about a similar situation you were in when someone is explaining something to you, even on the most normal subjects?
Friend: "I had a really nice dinner last night."
You: "Oh, so did I !!"
In the grand majority of conversations that's absolutely normal, as human beings we try to look for relatable actions and thoughts. We like to have something in common with those we speak to, it gives us safe, mutual ground on which to continue building our relationship with that person.
What I found really interesting though was the tips the trainer gave us to improve our active listening skills, I thought I'd share them here on the blog, not only because I find them really useful, but to remind myself in the future to be more of an active listener. I am so guilty for diving in and giving my point of view.
Avoid why questions.
Why questions will automatically put the speaker on the defensive.
Avoid yes or no questions.
Yes or no questions tend to end a conversation.
E.g "Did you find that article I sent you useful?" change to "What part, if any, of that article I sent you did you find useful?
Don't butt in!
Let the person speaking finish their point before saying your piece. Butting in will only cause frustration.
Ask the speaker what would their ideal outcome be with the situation they're facing.
At some point or another in life we are all faced with situations that overwhelm us, making us feel like we don't have the solutions. Many believe we all have the tools to solve problems we may face. We don't need someone else to advise us, we just need someone to ask the right questions. After all no one knows your position better than you do, you are the one living it. Each and every situation anyone faces is completely unique to them.
By eliciting the speaker's ideal outcome, you can then ask what steps they believe they should take to reach the desired conclusion. By doing so they will not only be resolving their predicament on their own, it will also build their self confidence in facing similar dilemmas in the future.
Ask, Ask, Ask.
Isn't it lovely when someone is asking relevant questions to something you're talking about? It makes you feel interesting, knowledgeable and all warm and fuzzy inside.
Don't mentally prepare your reply whilst the person is still speaking.
I tend to get panicky if I'm put on the spot during a conversation, I don't like awkward silences and will always try and thing of something to say to avoid any kind of silence. I'm going to really try hard to stop thinking of replies whilst the person is speaking to me. It's okay to stop and formulate a proper, well thought answer. This way you won't be distracted by your own thoughts and will still be listening to the other person, you could easily miss an important point whilst thinking up a reply!
Confirm that you have understood correctly what they are saying to you with "What I'm hearing is..." or "Okay, so what your saying is..." in doing so, not only are you making sure that you understand everything, you are also giving them a chance to reflect upon what they have said.
Ask if you can share an experience.
If you really feel like you have something valuable to add to the conversation that may be of help, why not ask if you can tell them instead of diving straight in. "I had a similar thing happen to me, may I share what happened and how I dealt with it?" This may seem strange at first but it's actually a very effective way to give advice if you really believe the person is struggling.
Pop it into action
During the workshop we were paired up and told to ask our partner about a typical week day for them. We had to actively listen, showing that we were listening by nodding our head. Once the person finished their point, we were to ask a question regarding what they had just said. The question was to either confirm our understanding or to elicit more information on the subject to show interest. We were told not to ask why at any point, to follow the points above and not to bring ourselves into the conversation at all. IT WAS SO TOUGH!! I kept wanting to saying things like "ohhhh I know!!..." and "I do that too!" and "How do you do that?! I could never wake up that early!"
Give it a go and let me know how you get on! I found it to be a very eye opening experience that really made me realise a few home truths about myself!