Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. That’s easy to say, but often hard to do. It’s all too common for us to half-listen while planning what we are going to say next, either to preserve our position and status or to win an argument.
In a climate of half-listening, unhealthy conflict flourishes. Actively listening dramatically reduces the risk of destructive conflict by making sure underlying values and beliefs are on the table and understood and that each party to the conversation feels heard and understood.
The principles of active listening are widely known, but in our work we see them violated over and over again! Let’s remind ourselves of them and, more importantly, remind ourselves to put them into practice!
1. Face the speaker.
2. Maintain eye contact, to the degree that everyone remains comfortable.
3. Minimize external distractions.
4. Respond appropriately to show that you understand.
5. Focus solely on what the speaker is saying.
6. Minimize internal distractions – quiet your inner monologue.
7. Keep an open mind…and an open heart.
8. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation.
9. Even if the speaker is launching a complaint against you, wait until they finish to defend yourself.
10. Ask questions for clarification – but, once again, wait until the other speaker has finished speaking!