Active Listening

Instead of blaming your memory, try practicing active listening and be amazed at what you can recall! 

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, but you can see they are obviously distracted? How many people practice active listening, using their full attention while making a conscious effort to understand the message you are trying to get across?

bronze sculpture with hand up to ear for active listening
 Image by Ilona Frey from Pixabay

When we make small talk with people around us, a lot of times instead of practicing active listening, we are thinking about what we can say next.  Our intention may be to show them that we understand, or that we have had similar experiences. Or it may be to say the “right thing” to make them feel better. However, by planning what we will say next, we are actually not listening to them at all. 

Active listening is a deliberate choice that demands focus and attention.  It is not the same as passively hearing the words coming out of their mouth. Later on, we may find we can’t remember what they said. That is not because we have bad memories, its because we were never paying attention in the first place!

Active listening can improve your relationships at work when you demonstrate to your colleagues that you respect them and take the time to hear what they have to say.  It can also help in personal relationships since it improves communication and increases understanding of your partner or friends.

Here are some simple tips for active listening:

Eliminate distractions

When you are speaking to another human being, you should not be looking at your cell phone.  Try to avoid distracting settings for conversations where you need to practice active listening. If you are speaking to someone on the phone, put yourself in a space where you will not be tempted to scroll through your Facebook or check your emails.  

Quiet Your Mind 

Stop the voice in your head that is rehearsing your response.  It may sound like, “tell him about that time… or give him advice on how to….” Those thoughts on not helpful and when we are entertaining them, we have switched off from listening to what they are saying since we have already decided on what they need to hear. 

face sculpture, closed eyes on grassy plane
Image by Edward Lich from Pixabay

Stop Judging

Remove your judgment from the conversation.  When a friend discloses to you that he is having trouble in his relationship and you know that he is working 80 hours a week, its easy to pass judgment on what is causing the problem. But if you judge before listening, you may completely miss the point he is trying to make.  

Don’t be a Detective

Stop fact-finding.  Don’t try to dig up details to put the pieces together for the person you are talking to. It’s obvious when you are just digging for dirt. Instead of listening to their overall message, you ask pointed questions, and then their focus switches to what you focused in on instead of what they originally wanted to share with you. In this way, you are manipulating the conversation and imposing your view on them. Which leads to imposing your cognitive bias.

Avoid Imposing Your Cognitive Bias 

Don’t do that. When you believe your view is the correct one, it closes you off to being open to others’ views and opinions.   Have you ever talked to someone who will stop you mid-sentence and tell you, “No, you’re wrong.”  I have, and on the one hand I appreciate they tell me out loud so that I know there is no longer any point in trying to get through to them.

upside down face
Image by bernswaelz from Pixabay

On the other hand, it’s annoying that they are so biased they can’t consider another point of view.  Don’t be a person that does that in your head and shuts off from listening to your friend, colleague, or partner.  It’s rude, and it won’t lead to any positive results.  

Stop Giving Advice

How often do the people you talk to give you advice that is valuable to you?  Unless they are recommending a restaurant or a dentist, I’d say its unlikely they can tell you how to live your life.  You are the expert on your life. So the person you are listening to isn’t likely to benefit from your, “what I would do is…” scenario.  So instead of giving advice, try reflecting what you heard your friend say.  For example, your friend tells you a long story about how he constantly gets overlooked at work. 

You say, “It sounds to me like you don’t feel your ideas are valued at those weekly meetings.” This can lead to the other person feeling more understood and sharing more information with you.  

statue of judgment or justice
Image by pixel2013 from Pixabay

When you use active listening in your day to day life, it becomes a habit.  You will be surprised to see how much more you learn about the people around you and the relationships we all take part in on a day to day basis.  If you have tried this exercise, let me know how it goes!

I would like to practice active listening more intentionally.  If you have a problem you want to talk about, sign up for one of my active listening sessions! Email me at to set up an appointment. 

I will not offer advice or sell you anything. I simply want you to experience what it’s like to be heard by someone who actively listens, and practice my own active listening skills!

Check out my most recent posts from the links below: 

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