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Active Listening Overview

Active Listening Overview

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the concept and components of active listening.

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Video Transcription

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Think about the last time you really had something on your mind. You sat down to talk to someone, and they really listened to you. They heard you. They got it. You probably felt really good. Well, I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about listening as a skill. I want to talk to you about something called active listening, active listening.

So what is active listening, and how does it differ from just plain listening? Well, I think listening, when we think about listening we think about somebody hearing what we said. And it brings to mind just our ears, are we in the same room, do we have a good connection over the phone, can we listen, can we hear? That's listening. But true active listening involves a lot more than simply hearing what somebody said, the actual words. It involves really getting it, understanding it. And when you are listening actively, you let the speaker know that you got the message. And you do this through your verbal response as well as your non-verbal.

Now, to listen, v that verb in English makes us think about just listening with our ears. The Chinese symbol for to listen really, I think, tells us something much more significant about the skill and about active listening. I have that right here. This is the Chinese symbol for to listen. You notice it has the character for ear. But it also incorporates the character for you, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. So I love this, because I think it really encompasses all the elements that go into active listening.

Undivided attention, that gets back to being really in the present moment with whoever is speaking and letting them know that verbally and non-verbally. Now, let's start with the non-verbal. It's so easy in today's world, where everybody's moving at a fast pace, to be, quote, listening, while we're doing other things. And we're not looking at the person. We're distracted. And the speaker knows it. Think about what it's like when you talk to somebody and they're distracted and they're doing other things. You feel like you have half their attention. You might speak louder, you might repeat yourself, because you're not getting a response from the person letting you know that they get it, they hear you.

So I think about little children, babies, in particular, who are totally in the present moment. They don't live anywhere else. And you know when you have a child's attention. They just sit and stare you. They're fully present. They're taking it all in. Now, I'm not suggesting you sit and stare at somebody. I'm just suggesting that we return to being in the present moment, because that's an enormously important part of active listening, letting go of all these distractions around us.

So we do that through eye contact, through body language. Now, it's also important to do it verbally, verbally. So we want to give feedback to the speaker that we did hear the message that he or she gave us as they intended it. That's feedback. So we want to do that non-verbally but also verbally. So here's an example. Here's an example. You have a friend who's talking to you about a situation that just happened.

And the friend says, you know, I just, this whole week my car's been in for repair. And so Joe said he'd take me to work. Well, he picked me up late. I got into work late, so then I had to get to a meeting on time. I ran in two minutes late. Everybody looked at me. You know, I had this long, hard day. Joe was supposed to pick me up. He said he'd call me if he couldn't pick me up. I never heard from him. I'm standing on the street corner. I text him and no answer. I call him. You know, he just leaves me on the street corner. I still haven't even gotten a hold of him. I had to take a cab home.

OK, there's a lot there. There's a lot there. You're actively listening. You want to let the person know you got it. Wow. So you were late to work, you got there late to work. It was a long day. Then you were standing on the street corner, you tried to get a hold of him by text, you called him and you didn't hear back? OK, that's one way of letting the listener know you got what he or she said. And you got the content part, if that part is important to let them know that you heard that.

It's also important to let them know that you're listening here with the heart. Active listening involves empathy. So you might say something like, wow, it sounds like you've been under a lot of stress. First the car, now this, being late to work, standing on the corner. That sounds really hard. So now you're reflecting back some emotion here that you heard that. So active listening involves that undivided attention, listening both from the heart, with your ears, with your whole being, and giving feedback to the speaker.

Now, this is a very important skill in conflict resolution. As an intervener when you have two parties sitting down and each has a side that they want to share, they have a story to tell, when one person, one side is speaking, if you can actively listen, you're going to let them know they were heard. So perhaps it's a dispute between neighbors. And one neighbor's very upset because there's been a lot of loud noise, a lot of cars on the street maybe blocking the driveway, she can't get out of the driveway, the dogs are barking, it's late into the night. So you might reflect back what you've heard here through active listening. So you're telling me that there's been a lot of noise, and traffic blocking your driveway, and dogs barking late at night.

So you are letting the person know you've heard this. And you would do that, of course, for both parties. So active listening is something you use in conflict resolution. It's something you can use in your own life when somebody's upset. It requires that rather than react in defense that you seek to understand before being understood. You seek to understand. You want the speaker to know you heard what they said.

Now, this involves suspending judgement. Suspending judgement means that you are listening without evaluating the speaker, what the speaker is saying, or the situation. Doesn't mean you agree with it. I want to make a distinction here. Suspending judgement is not the same as agreeing. You may agree, you may not disagree. But this isn't the point where you're getting into your response. You're simply letting the speaker know I get what you said, how you feel in this moment about that, what is true for you. So that is active listening, an enormously important skill, and one that is key to good conflict resolution. So thank you for joining me today, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Active Listening

A conflict resolution technique in which the listener sends constant feedback to the speaker, indicating that the speaker's message has been received and understood or interpreted as intended.


Indications that a message has been received and interpreted in a particular way.

Suspending Judgement

Refraining from evaluation of an idea, situation or person.