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Basics of Active Listening

Listening: This is the most underrated of life skills.

Listening helps you to gather information, demonstrate that you care, and builds intimacy and empathy. The biggest pitfall about this skill is forgetting or losing track of when you are supposed to be doing it. You can reduce the chances of this by being very clear that the listener agrees to stay in listening mode until the speaker agrees he or she has been heard and understood. Some people use a token -- a stick, pencil, other item that the speaker literally hands-off once they feel satisfied that they have been heard-- not agreed-with, but heard. That way, everyone knows whose "turn" it is.

You may have encountered the term and skill, "active listening" before. If so, you know that, essentially, it's saying back to the other person, in your own words, what you understand them to be saying to you. There are really just two important parts that you need to pay attention to: Fact and Feeling.

Fact: For the speaker, what facts are they aware of. It doesn't matter, while you are the listener, whether you agree with their facts or not.

Feeling: What is the emotional response the speaker is having? This is not about their interpretation of the situation, or about you -- it's just this: For who they are, in the situation in which they find themselves, are they happy, sad, scared, ashamed, confused, angry, upset, or some other emotion?

It's helpful to separate yourself, your ego, your dignity from the situation, and just imagine that the speaker is painting a picture that has nothing to do with you. The colors of the picture represent the feeling, the shapes and lines are the facts. Here is another tip: If you have trouble identifying emotions, try for a moment to ignore what the speaker is saying, and focus exclusively on how they are saying it: What does their tone, body language, facial expression, volume, and rate of speech tell you about what emotion is underlying what they are saying.​

Especially if you're in doubt, it's fine to ask whether you got it right. When that happens, roles can switch. ​​​​​

If you are interested in this topic, you might like my blog on Empathic Leadership

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