There is so much we can learn from one another when stop to listen, but the reality is we do not do all that great of a job actually listening. Don’t get me wrong, we loosely “hear” what our family, friends, and co-workers say to us moment-to-moment, but this type of listening is superficial and rarely provides for a comprehensive understanding of the topic being discussed. Listening is akin to reading and understanding the lyrics to a song, while hearing is similar to moving to the beat of a song without really understanding much about the song’s meaning. You might think of listening and hearing not in the sense of one being better than the other, but instead as two separate tools capable of completing different life tasks. For example, if you are attending a football game and loosely hear the sounds around you it will not compromise your viewing experience — and might even enhance it if it gets you to cheer along with the crowd. On the other hand, tuning in to a friend in need will require a much deeper connection that only occurs through disciplined, active listening.
Examining active listening
Mental health professionals know the value of active listening, and so should you. Active listening is just that — it’s active! Unlike hearing, or passive listening, active listening is a process whereby the listener tunes in closely, asks for clarification when needed, repeats back (paraphrases) what has been said, and displays open, inviting body language. Active listening is non-argumentative and empathic, and is designed to better understand what someone is experiencing. Active listening is not a conversation where all you are doing is thinking about what you are going to say next, nor is it designed for you to bombard the other person with all of the things you think he or she should do with their situation.
When we use active listening it allows us to build better trust (and ultimately relationships), learn new information, and ultimately provide our best support and feedback to others. On the other hand, none of these things occur when we passively hear a person, avert our eye contact away, and play with our phone while dividing our attention away from the speaker. When the people we interact with feel empowered because of our active listening, they often return those same qualities back to us by means of stronger relationships and more empathy toward our situations and problems — a win-win for everyone.
Active listening is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal when it comes to building genuine, lasting relations with others. Even better, active listening is something we can all do if we stop and treat others in the ways in which we would like for them to treat us by truly listening to our thoughts and opinions.