Saturday, January 18, 2014

Active Listening

Active listening is a critical part of every relationship!

It is imperative that we learn how to become effective listeners in order to be good communicators. This is where mis-communication begins in many instances through our listening skills.

The following practice can be applied to ALL relationships; intimate, employers, friends, neighbors, etc. Practicing these active listening skills will improve any relationship that you’re involved in and enhance your quality of life!

For teens and their parents, adolescence is a time of happiness and troubles. It is a time when an adolescent breaks from the past, and yet, retains some childhood behavior.

As a parent of a teenager, you may often feel as though your son or daughter is speaking a completely different language than you are…most of the time. Still, active listening with your children during their teen years is important. This is the crucial time when they are forming their identities and taking ownership of their own values and beliefs.

Active Listening:

This a vital part of in a relationship, as well as, a communication tool that can help people speak with each other clearly to be understood.

Three types of responses in active listening

Active listening is about focusing on the person who is speaking.

An active listener needs to focus full attention on the person who is speaking. The way a person can show they are actively listening is to do the following

  • ask good questions,
  • listen non-judgmentally,
  • paraphrase, and
  • empathize with the person.

First, you train yourself to ask questions in a way that allows the other person to feel comfortable about answering truthfully, and about using his or her own words.

Second, you restate what you heard to make sure that you understood what they were saying.

Finally, you need to take the time to see things through their eyes.

Asking questions:

Often questions can seem accusing or blaming to the person asked. A question may make the person feel backed into a corner.

For example, if a parent asks his or her teenager, "You didn't like the movie, did you?" it is clear that the parent does not approve of the movie and, if the teen did like the movie, he or she ends up feeling the need to defend his or her position.

Consider how much easier it would have been to respond to the question "What did you think of the movie?" And once your teen has expressed an opinion, rather than giving yours, ask more questions to encourage the person further thinking.

Active listening requires the speaker to look at the hidden meaning behind the question. People often ask questions that might make others feel pressured into coming up with the correct response. For example, you might feel pressured when someone close to you asks, "Do you think I have gained weight?"

These types of questions tend to put the person being asked on the defensive. Often the person may shut off communication and/or become dishonest in order to protect him or herself.

In order to demonstrate good active listening skills, you need to make sure that you ask questions honestly and sincerely. The intent behind questioning is to understand rather than advice, criticize, or pry (the prosecuting attorney approach). Through this process, the person will also understand their own thinking by fostering decision-making and planning skills.

Active-listening questions intend to:

  • Clarify meanings: "I hear you saying you are frustrated with Sally, is that right?"
  • Learn about others thoughts, feelings, and wants: "Tell me more about your ideas for the project."
  • Encourage elaboration: "What happened next?" or "How did that make you feel?"
  • Encourage discovery: "What do you feel your options are at this point?"
  • Gather more facts and details: "What happened before this fight took place?"

Asking questions: a self-evaluation

You can be sure you are using active listening effectively if you:

  • Do not assume you know what the other person means; don't try completing the statements or say, "I know just how you feel."
  • Ask for clarification with questions such as: "What did you mean when you said I have been unfair to you?" or "You said she's crazy what do you mean by crazy? What does she do that is crazy?"
  • Check your tone for sincerity; As you are talking to the person, check that your tone of voice matches your feelings and body language.

For example, a parent may sound angry when in reality he or she is concerned for his or her child. However, because the child hears anger he or she becomes more defensive and shuts the parent out. The same goes for all other relationships; spouse, employer, friend, etc.

  • Ask open-ended questions that allow for a variety of responses. If you ask closed-ended questions, you limit the range of responses and suggest that you already know what is going to be said.
  • Show interest in the speaker and the conversation by saying, "Tell me more about that" or "Keep going, I'm following you."
  • Don't give advice until after you have asked for the person's opinions on the situation, as in "What are some possible solutions to this problem?" or "What do you think should happen?"

Paraphrasing (re-stating)

Paraphrasing is a tool a you can use to make sure that you understand the message that you think the person is sending. It is restating the information you just received to make sure you understand it.

For example, your child says, "I hate math and the teacher because she never lets us do anything cool!" You might say, "It sounds like you’re having a hard time with math and that makes you feel frustrated and bored."

This technique helps people communicate in several ways.

  1. First, it helps people make sure they understood the message correctly.
  2. Second, by restating or paraphrasing, people draw further information from the other person.
  3. Third, paraphrasing allows the person to know that the other person have heard them and is interested in what he or she has to say.
  4. Fourth, it allows the person an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding immediately.

The following are examples of paraphrasing:

Example 1: A mother and son are discussing how much TV he should watch during the week.

Mom: "Mike, I'm concerned about how much you've been playing video games and watching television lately. I think we need to set up some kind of schedule to make sure you are finishing your homework and doing other things besides playing video games and watching television."

Son: "But reality shows don't get repeated and if you miss an episode you're lost! I have to keep up on my gaming too. All my friends watch this much television and play the same games I do."

Mom: "You'll feel like you're missing out on something if you don't watch all the shows and play all the games your friends do."

Son: "Yes! Then I'll be the big loser who doesn't know what everyone else is talking about, and loses when I play video games."

Mom: "If you don't know what your friends are talking about, you're afraid you won't fit in and they'll make fun of you."

Son: "Exactly, Mom! That's why I have to watch TV and play video games."

Mom: "Hmm, I can see that TV and video games are important to you. Can you tell me which shows you, your friends like best and when they are on? And which two video games are the most important to you? What might be some healthy alternatives you can do instead of watching TV and playing video games with your friends on a 'free' night? (favorite sports to play/fun outdoor activities)

Example 2: A father and daughter discuss curfew.

Dad: "Dawn, I'd like for you to come home at 1 a.m. from this party tomorrow night."

Dawn: "Dad, there is just no way. The party is until 2 a.m. and I have to be there until the end.

Dad: "It sounds like this party is a big deal for you, and that being there until the end is important."

Dawn: "Yeah! Jason will be there..., there is going to be a live band..., and all my friends will be there! Dad, you just have to let me stay until two.

Dad: "You're excited about the party and want to make sure you have every opportunity to hang out with your friends and Jason."

Dawn: "Yes, I can't come home before 2."

Dad: "I get that this party means a lot to you, and I am concerned about your safety. Let's get more details about this party--and your ride there and back--and see if we can work something out were both comfortable with."

Empathizing means that you have the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes. To empathize you must ignore your own, perception of the situation for the moment and accept the other person's feelings, thoughts, and ideas of the situation as yours. See it through the other person's eyes--during your discussion. Empathizing does not mean you need to agree with the person. Empathizing does not mean you need to give in to the person, or allow her or him to set their own rules to avoid confrontation.

Empathizing means you do not dismiss what the person says as ridiculous or silly. Your acceptance of the persons thoughts, ideas, and feelings increase the chance that the person will talk to you about the problems and issues that he or she is facing.

It is easy to know when you are being empathic because:

  1. Your body language and tone match
  2. Your tone and your feelings match
  3. You are focused on what the person is saying and meaning you are trying to see things from another's point of view, which requires that:
  • You do not impose your feelings, thoughts, and ideas throughout the conversation...
  • You refrain from immediately giving advice
  • You are tired after listening because it takes a great deal of energy
  • You ask yourself if you would make that same statement to an adult. If not then think twice about making it.

Results from active listening:

  • Active listening takes time and practice and does not produce results overnight.
  • Usually, each time you and the other person talk, your conversation will get easier and will include more active listening-- not just from you but also from the other person.
  • If you are a parent, you, as the adult, have to lead by example.


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