Thursday, October 8, 2009

Seven Steps to Improve Relationships With Active listening Skills

Active listening skills are crucial to developing and maintaining relationships. When people don't feel heard by a partner or colleague, their relationship can become a source of pain. Active listening is the way to improve your relationship with each conversation.

Active listening skills acknowledge that the listener is as important in the conversation as the speaker. The meaning of words is subjective and so the listener may interpret what they hear is a way that the speaker did not intend. This may lead to hurt or angry feelings and disrupted relationships.

Step 1: Give Them Your Full Attention
The first active listening skill to master is that of listening intently to what the person is saying, and how they are saying it. Focus only on the speaker without giving attention to anything else, including your own thoughts. Don't decide on your response until it is your turn to speak.

Step 2: Keep An Open Mind
Imagining that you already know everything there is to know about the other will colour what you hear. Instead be interested in what new thing you may learn about this person or situation.

Step 3: Let Them Know You Are Listening
Show the speaker that you are listening by facing and looking at them, and making appropriate physical responses such as leaning forward or nodding. Occasional remarks such as "go on" or "tell me more about that", questions like "what happened then,” or encouraging noises like uh-uh. will encourage them to keep talking.

Step 4: Clarify What You Hear
Speakers tend to assume that they are being understood; listeners need to check that they are interpreting what they are hearing in the way the speaker intends. Reflecting back what you hear "As I understand it you are feeling...," or asking questions such as "What did you mean when you said...," or "When you said ....did you mean...." helps you and the speaker to know that you understand what they are saying.

Step 5: Reflect Back Emotions
If you can sense a feeling in what the speaker is saying, tell them tentatively what you notice. Remarks such as 'It sounds as if you were angry," can validate their emotion or make them aware of it.

Step 6: Find Out What They Want From You
Why is the speaker telling you this and what do they want you to do? They may want your support, sympathy opinion, advice, or intervention or may not want you to do anything but listen while they get what happened out of their system. A simple question such as "What would you like from me?" will let you know how to respond.

Step 7: Practice Your Active Listening Skills
While learning active listening skills, evaluate yourself after every conversation. Where did you do well and where did you fall down? Communication habits are difficult to change, so start by focusing on one skill at a time, making sure to use it in every conversation you have. Next day, focus on another skill. Soon you will be using all the active listening skills in every conversation you have.

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