What is Active Listening?


Active listening is an approach to conversing with another person that is very conscious and controlled.  It is a way to bring safety and understanding to discussions of emotionally charged or difficult subjects.  I help couples to use the active listening technique to improve interpersonal communication with their partner.  At first these techniques might feel forced and awkward, but once practiced and perfected, these skills will enable you as a couple to avoid conflict while discussing the major topics in a relationship.

The goal of active listening is to put aside personal emotions, overcome distraction, and use techniques to focus on TRULY understanding what someone is saying to you. This involves paraphrasing, summarizing, and asking open ended questions.  Try not to judge or argue or evaluate what your partner is saying, just try to hear it and understand it.  Much of the time our minds are already formulating responses or assuming understanding while our partners are talking.  This is not enough during tougher talks.  Eye contact and appropriate body language are crucial.

Paraphrase what the speaker is saying, repeating the statement in question form. For example if the speaker said "I am furious at you for not cleaning the bathroom!" you might say "So you are mad at me because I didn't clean up the bathroom. Is that right?"

Listen for the underlying emotion. For example if your partner says "My boss was mean to me today when he said that my work was poor." You might say "You sound sad" or "You sound hurt by what your boss said today."

Ask clarifying questions in order to make sure you understand what the speaker is saying. For example if the speaker said "My coworker just made me feel so stupid!" you might say "It sounds like you're pretty upset. Tell me what happened?"

Encourage the speaker to keep talking by letting them know you are listening. Make direct eye contact. Use open, receptive body language. No crossed arms or tapping feet. Nod your head, and make comments that encourage further communication such as "Ok, go on." or "Tell me more."

Approach the conversation with the belief that the speaker has the ability to solve the problem for themselves. Resist the temptation to offer advice, or give opinions about what the speaker is saying. Remember the only goal is listening and comprehending.   If you must ask a fixing question, wait until the end of the active listening and then say and "What do you think you can do?" If your partner draws a blank, give them time and encourage them to try to think of some solutions.  Don't judge the solutions, just actively listen to them.  This can be one of the most difficult parts of the no fixing rule.  To allow for non-critical brain-storming of solutions.