Topic Tuesday #112 2014/09/09 "Active Listening"

Topic Tuesday #112 2014/09/09 "Active Listening"

Think about what you want to achieve in a conversation.

What does it mean to listen to a person? You don't really have to invest much of your energy in the exchange. Listening is usually a passive action. Or is it?

Hearing what someone says is not the same as listening. To listen, you must engage the speaker. I'm not talking a bear hug or a death stare; you just have to pay attention and think about what is being said. Typical active listening behavior is characterized by feedback towards a mutual understanding. A subtle regurgitation of the information to illustrate that you have comprehended the information being shared; this is critical, and also a trap.

Let me explain the trap. You have likely encountered poor listeners. I'm not referring to those that just sit silently - nodding their head and not responding and carrying on like you didn't say anything at all;  I'm speaking of those that listen with only the intent to talk. There is only the most superficial listening involved in that attitude and it is paired with a form of narcissism. 

Of course, given that I am yakking it up on a blog, and have a podcast, there may be a degree of that behavior in myself, so feel free and take anything I say with a grain of salt. A big grain.

Some people are also poor speakers. If you combine a poor listener with a poor speaker, you may as well be pouring oil on water. If your aim in speaking is only to vent, you DO NOT WANT an active listener... You want a slightly responsive brick wall. As valuable as venting is, it has a place, and it can be difficult for either party to shift gears into more meaningful conversations from a venting posture. Let me add that listening to someone vent, can be illuminating; you may have to parse that information differently, as many people do not actually want constructive input... It may seem strange, but it is true. They want to talk, but not actually get help. It is a form of therapy, and you can feel secure in knowing that just listening is helping.

This can cause enormous problems. You have multiple tactics to use in your communication tool kits, and now you have to learn the right tool for the right job. 

My advice... And again, take it with a grain of salt, as your individual mileage may vary... 

Pay attention, and show that you are. Make eye contact (except for some people, who feel threatened by such attentions), ask for clarification on things you do not understand, try not to fidget and provide body language that indicates your participation. Relating things to your own experiences can work, however try not to talk too much about yourself. It can be hard to be engaged and yet neutral. Sometimes you don't need or even should not be neutral, other times, you have to be. Dealing with people is always a challenge.  You never know when there will be a pop quiz and you have to act. You may not be required to always be active, but it is a great idea to gather all the knowledge you can. Forming an accurate picture of your partner in conversation is the key to a successful exchange, even if that exchange has you acting as a brick wall. Remember the phrase, "If walls could talk" and chuckle to yourself (in private) and keep listening for your quiz at the end.