Active Listening



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Active Listening

In our active world of communication one cannot afford to exclude the art of listening. As a leader you must listen to your constituents in order to be effective. You need to try to listen and correctly understand every message from each group member.

Active listening differs from hearing. Hearing is the passive act of perceiving audible sounds with the ear. Listening, on the other hand, is the active pursuit of understanding what the other person is saying and feeling.

In active listening, the receiver tries to understand what the sender is feeling and what the message means. The listener puts his/her understanding into his/her own words and feeds it back to the sender for verification. It is important to feed back only what the listener feels the sender's message meant - nothing more, nothing less. This creates an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding in which the sender can explore the problem and determine a solution.

To listen actively is not a simple activity. The following are important characteristics of a "good active listener."

Be there

Be present in heart, mind and spirit with the person. Begin with a clear intention to understand the other person before you seek to have him/her understand you because you really need to hear what s/he has to say first. If you don't have the time, or don't want to listen, wait until you do. Displaying the proper attitude with open body language is important, as well as matching your tempo and tone with the tempo and tone of the person you are listening to.

Listen carefully to the person

Don't plan what you are going to say. Don't think of how you can interrupt. Don't think of how to solve the problem, how to admonish, how to console, or what the person "should" do. Refuse to be blinded by your own prejudices. Don't think or struggle to react....just listen. Also, watch for what will never be said out loud. Read the nonverbal signals of others.

Accept the person and his/her feelings

The meaning of what the person is trying to say is in a combination of content and feeling. Accept the person and their feelings without judgment or reservation. Don't stereotype the person even though s/he may be very different from you. Also, accept whatever the person's feelings may be or how they may differ from what you think a person "should" feel. Don't be afraid that just because the feeling is expressed the person will always feel that way. Remember that feelings are neither right nor wrong; they just exist and can change, too.

Stay with the other person's point of view without becoming that person

Put yourself in the other person's shoes at his/her point of reference. Don't become that person, but understand what s/he is feeling, saying, or thinking. For clarification try translating what the other person is saying into your own words without being repetitious. Stay separate enough to be objective, but involved enough to help.

Trust the person enough to keep out of it

Trust the person's ability to handle his/her own feelings, work through them, and find solutions to his/her own problems. Stay Objective. Refrain from offering solutions in order to keep yourself removed. Don't intrude on what the person is trying to say.

Active listening allows the leader to understand what messages the group members are sending him/her and is also the foundation for returning feedback effectively to those members.