Are you an ‘active listener’?
When most of us think about listening, we think of it merely as a pause between opportunities to speak.
Instead of relegating listening to a secondary place among our communication skills, what if we were to try to hone and perfect ‘active listening’ as a PRIMARY communication skill?
What is ‘active listening’?
Active listening is listening with a PURPOSE.
It is ENGAGED listening.
When we listen actively, whether it be to our kids, our spouses, our coworkers, or our friends and neighbors, we are listening with not just our ears, but with our hearts, our minds, and our spirits; we are listening with empathy, with creativity, with our imaginations and our fantasies, and we are listening with the INTENTION of understanding the other person as best we can.
When we Listen like this, we are truly trying to connect and to create emotional intimacy with others.
The human spirit craves this sort of connectivity and, unlike physical intimacy, it really can and should be had with as many other people as possible in order to give us a sense of belonging and feeling settled inside and in our lives. Of course, when we work on Listening and creating emotional intimacy in our marriages, as you’ll see in my upcoming marriage book, it elevates that relationship –both emotionally AND physically- beyond what it otherwise would be and it helps us heal like never before.
Also, when we Listen as described above, we can naturally leverage that Listening into an even greater understanding of the other person and where they’re coming from by doing the rest of my LVAC technique with them as well; namely, Listening, Validating, Asking (open-ended questions), and saving our Comments for last.
But the main point I want to convey is that listening is NOT a secondary activity behind speaking.
In order for us to become active listeners, we must learn to Stop (see my post on Stopping– another adult skill) and realize that Listening is as much an adult skill as anything else and it must be Deliberately cultivated, practiced, and honed with our energy and our intention.
Listening IS the main event, along with our empathy for the other person’s position (Validation), and our Asking them questions to help clarify what they are trying to tell us and tell themselves. With children this is particularly powerful, but so to with adults.
I’ve often wondered what would happen to us if we lost the ability to speak except for asking questions.
In fact, I wrote a short story about this called “The Father” which you can read on my websites http://www.LVACNation.com or http://www.DrFerraioli.com (just look under Bonus Features- I’ve formatted it so you can read it on the go with your cell phone.)
In the story, a disabled father raises his children successfully even though he can barely speak without losing his breath and even though he is quite physically limited. When I wrote this story I was trying to answer the question, “What is the absolute, bare-bones essence of what we’re supposed to be giving to our children?” I wondered if it had to do with our conversations with them, our participation in sports and other activities with them, time spent together, our values, or what?
I found that, ultimately, and where it counts the most, Listening was the answer. I think you’ll like the story.
In the end, it’s up to us to find the presence of mind and the personal tranquility required to be able to become active listeners.
But please know the following: Becoming an active listener will require a ‘gear shift’ internally, as you come to face your need to be all ‘revved up’ inside, ready to speak, defend, comment, etc., and, instead, as you shift towards allowing yourself to calm down, wait a moment or two, and really Listen with energy and intention.
You will grow with this, and you will earn greater Emotional Credibility (trust + likability– also in the upcoming marriage book) with others.
Thanks for Listening,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.