Active Listening – easier said than done!

Active listening is a skill like any other.  This means that some people are already naturally better listeners than others, but there are things we can all do to improve our capacity to be great active listeners.  And this is such a worthwhile skill to work on improving: being a good communicator helps us maintain good quality relationships, avoid conflict, and increase the likelihood that we get our needs met, and being good at active listening is a key part of that. 


Active listening is easier said than done though, because it means having to override a lot of our natural tendencies during a conversation.  Most of us enjoy talking more than we enjoy listening, so we sometimes tend to interrupt, or rehearse what we’re going to say next, rather than giving our full attention to the person we are talking to.  We try to mindread, to predict what the person is going to say next, or even finish their sentences.  We can be judgmental if others choose to behave in ways we wouldn’t, and we find it challenging when people disagree with us.  Active listening requires us to suspend these tendencies, and instead give our full attention to the person we are listening to.  We must listen with the sole purpose of understanding, not to offer advice or share our own story of a similar experience.  This means asking open-ended questions, and checking or demonstrating our understanding by recapping what we’ve heard using different words.  Avoid empty platitudes or reassurances – just show you’ve heard and understood.  Active listening also means getting comfortable sitting in silence, rather than feeling like we have to fill every gap in the conversation – providing that space can be really powerful.  Make sure your body language reflects your intention to listen to understand – good eye contact, nodding, leaning in. 


Improving our active listening skills takes time and practice, but given how fundamental our ability to listen effectively is in our relationships and connections with others, and the benefits we reap as skilled active listeners, it is well worth spending the time to work on them.    

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