Active listening is making a conscious effort to understand a complete message with its verbal and nonverbal cues. It seems simple but the truth is most of us only perceive less than the 50% of the message that is being communicated. Having said, let’s establish the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the power of perceiving sound. Listening, on the other hand, is paying attention to sound. That conscious effort, that attention is where the difference is.
Here is an illustrative example: an expecting mother is at the doctor to check her baby’s heartbeat. The fetal Doppler picks up the sound waves and then, the precious moment happens. Is she hearing or active listening? This mother-to-be is definitely paying attention to these sounds. She is making a conscious decision about them. As actively engaged as she is aware of the lack of verbal message. But the nonverbal message that the waves are delivering goes a long way. All her senses are involved and she is patiently connected, most likely responding accordingly with maternal signs. Some aws are heard by the physician.
In other words, this is the process of an active listener. The listener decides to be focused on the speaker and so, gets rid of all possible distractions. This is the first step. It is easier when the active listener is able to capture everything that is communicated. Next, posture, language, pitch, emotions among others help the information to be delivered effectively. The second step is to listen for verbal and nonverbal cues. Lastly, the response should show the listener’s active immersion to the speaker’s message. The feedback can be expressed in the form of questions, clarifications, and/or summaries.
Active listening is a fundamental skill but it is also an imperative process to everyone. Practicing it helps to build better relationships and improves trust. It may be challenging at the beginning since the primary tendency is to interrupt, offer some kind of judgment or simply react. Be patient and keep exercising these three basic steps. As Ernest Hemingway said: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”