Joy Magazine

Cultivating the Art of Listening

Have you ever wondered how you could improve your relationship with your kids? Or wished for more intimacy with your spouse or partner? Or mused how you might reach a higher score from your employees on the annual satisfaction survey? In this fast-paced world where one pill once a month seems to solve a myriad of problems, wouldn't it be great if there was something for these ailments?

The key to creating and receiving what we want is right within our grasp and something we do unconsciously each and every day. We learned it from a favorite teacher, a mentoring supervisor or growing up from an adult who had a positive impact in our life. They all took the time to truly listen to us when it mattered. As a result we felt heard and understood, appreciated and recognized. They helped us believe in ourselves. And we can, if we choose, do the same for ourselves and others and pay it forward. It doesn't cost any money but the return on this investment is priceless.

The dos and don'ts

While someone is speaking to you

Do Not

Look at your watch, doodle, yawn or fidget

Spend time rehearsing what you will say next

Try to respond to everything

Take over the conversation with your own life story

Immediately evaluate what is being said

Judge, criticize or condemn

Ask questions to satisfy your own curiosity

Allow your mind to wander to other things

While someone is speaking to you


Give full attention on what the person is saying with eye contact and body language

Suspend judgment and listen

Resist the urge to contradict, argue or blame

Seek to understand the other's perspective

Only ask questions when the other seems to need help

Let the other person direct the conversation in the direction they want

Reflect back the essence and feeling of what is said

When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the conversation

Is there a difference between hearing and listening? Absolutely. Hearing is a passive experience, something we do most of the day. Our ears process sounds from the environment including traffic, television, an iPod or a competing conversation with little help from the rest of our body. When multitasking, we may find ourselves hearing what someone is telling us while checking or texting e-mail, erasing the board, weeding the garden or preparing dinner.

Shifting from hearing to active listening engages our body, our mind and our feelings. We begin to pay attention to subtle clues like facial expression, the context for what is being said, testing what we hear for authenticity and understanding. Investing in understanding what another is telling us can mean the difference between success and failure, right choice vs. wrong choice, health or harm. With intention and practice, the art of listening can be acquired, mastered and, most of all, thoroughly enjoyed.

How do we bring the deepest and most respectful quality of listening to each and every person we meet? There are six active listening responses that will let your speaker know that you are listening to his or her message.

1. Paraphrasing — where you state in your own words what you believe the other person just said
2. Summarizing — where you integrate related points into a single focus
3. Acknowledging — where you state how the speaker appears to be feeling
4. Encouraging — where you ask the person to give more information about what happened
5. Supporting — where you give short verbal and nonverbal clues that you are listening, e.g. nodding your head or saying uh-huh.
6. Delegating — where you place responsibility for solutions or ideas back on the speaker and involve her/him in the solution

See the sidebar for some dos and don'ts, pitfalls and helpful hints to launch your active listening practice.

The art of listening is a gift we all have and can offer others, building confidence and mutual respect. Remember to forgive yourself when the conversation doesn't go quite the way you expected. Active listening nourishes the giver, nourishes the receiver and all their relations.

And know that when you are actively listening, you are truly making a difference; watch your relationships and your world powerfully transform.

Can you hear me now?

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