To truly listen to another person is about more than just hearing them out.
On some level, we all understand the importance of listening, but putting that understanding into practice doesn’t always come naturally. That’s where the DBT Skill Active Listening can lend you a hand. Partaking in active listening can make you a better leader, transform your relationships, and open your mind permanently, but it takes active effort. So let’s say those benefits sound appealing to us, where can we start?
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King
Let The Other Person Talk
The first thing you can do to engage in active listening is give your conversation partner a chance to talk. If you’re starting your quest for active listening with a long statement about how much you wish to listen, you’re getting off on the wrong foot. In order to listen, we must begin with silence.
- Speak slowly, and pause after each of your statements, so that the other person has an opportunity to talk.
- Try your best not to interrupt, and save your questions for a lull in the conversation.
- While they’re talking, give them your empathy. Relate what they’re saying to moments in your own life, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Even if we’re listening with our full attention, being a silent observer is not the whole picture of being a good listener. Asking the right questions can clear up things you’re uncertain about and encourage your conversation partner to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. When the person you’re talking with leaves a gap in the conversation, that’s your opportunity to dig deeper into what they’re talking about and show with your behavior that you care to hear them. Encouraging questions sound something like:
- How did that make you feel?
- What did that remind you of?
- Asking for more details when you genuinely don’t understand (e.g. Where were you? Who is that? What does that mean?)
Reflective listening serves a similar function to asking questions; it shows your conversation partner that you’re listening, and gives them an opportunity to correct any misconceptions you may have. So if it’s so helpful, what is reflective listening? In simple terms, it means echoing back what you’re hearing when there’s a pause in the conversation.
- That doesn’t mean you have to repeat exactly what they’ve just said. In fact, paraphrasing and putting it into your own words is far more helpful.
- That doesn’t mean you have to echo every piece of what they’re saying. It’s more useful to summarize and reflect the pieces you suspect to be important.
- That doesn’t mean you have failed if you misunderstand something they’ve said. Catching misunderstandings before we get attached to them is actually one of the great benefits of reflective listening.
“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” – Alan Alda
How Can I Train Myself To Listen Better?
Active listening is just one of many skills that can improve your ability to understand others. Self-love can help us break free of the insecurities that keep us from empathizing with others. When we come to a greater understanding of ourselves, we feel more comfortable sharing ourselves with the people closest to us. All of these skills are hard to learn, that’s why many people seek out an expert!
Where Can I Find A Listening Expert?
Integrative Counsel has therapists that are skilled in the art of active and reflective listening. That’s one of the many counseling skills that was emphasized in grad school. If you’re looking for someone to truly and deeply listen to you, or, if you want to learn how to improve your own relationships by being a better listener, our therapists are your experts. They can provide you with their ear and their insights so that you feel more understood, and give you the tools that you need to go into your own relationships with a better mindset.
Sunny Ebsary is a writer and singer-songwriter from Tampa, FL. When he’s not sing-songwriting or just regular writing, he’s probably drinking water with a lot of ice, having a staring contest with his cat, or giving people great ideas. You can listen to Sunny’s music here.