Being understood and accepted is a fundamental element of the human condition and one of the most meaningful ways to feel this is by being listened to.
While it might sound simple, properly listening to someone is a real art. What's even harder than giving someone your full attention, is not putting yourself into their situation through unwanted advice.
So, how do we provide support for the people in our lives and ensure they are feeling understood and accepted? Effective listening could be the answer, but mastering the art of effective listening isn't as straightforward as it seems.
What Is Effective Listening?
Professor Frances Quirk from Barwon Health says listening to another person is one of the best ways to show positive regard for those you work, interact or live with.
"The greatest gift you can give anyone is actually being able to satisfy your own judgement, bias, agenda and fully, wholey listen to another person," Quirk told HuffPost Australia.
One of the reasons that we need someone who is in our lives that is an effective listener is that we don't pay much attention to what we say to ourselves.
With this in mind, effective listening is giving your full attention, not only to what another person is saying, but also to their body language. It's vital to engage not only your ears, but all of your other senses as well, so you are able to build a comprehensive picture of what the other person is saying.
"It's really mindful listening," Quirk said. "You are focusing fully on the other person, on what they are saying and you are not just engaging your hearing sense -- you are fully engaging all of your senses so you're looking at some of their behaviours because sometimes they are not congruent. So, they might say something sad but laugh or say something challenging but dismiss it.
"So, part of effectively listening is actually interpreting all the other things that they are communicating to you non-verbally as well as verbally."
Quirk says that we should aim to be a mirror for the person we are listening to, so they are able to see themselves and their situation more clearly.
"You are trying to get the person to the real meaning of what they are saying, to help them understand themselves better by being a bit of a mirror. So, you are giving back to them what they are giving to you and you know you have got it right when people start saying, 'Exactly, that's what I mean.'"
How Can You Be An Effective Listener?
Effective listening is all about making the other person feel comfortable and valued and a major part of this is being genuinely interested in what that person is trying to say.
"Being someone who can convey warmth and positive regard [is important] so that you are conveying to a person that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and that is not coming from a perspective of personal gain or boosting your own ego," Quirk said.
All people really want is for someone to fully engage with them and be able to communicate back that they really have understood their perspective.
Warmth and genuinity should be combined with a non-judgemental ear, so the person can understand themselves better.
"You are non-judgemental -- you make no comments about what it is they are saying, you don't express any opinion one way or another. The only communication from you to the other person as an effective listener is to essentially repeat back what they are saying."
"It is actually to directly give their words directly back or to give your version of their words directly back as a way of checking what you have understood what they are actually saying -- it's a skill and it's hard to exercise in a mindful way."
What Are The Barriers To Effective Listening?
Being an effective listener is a difficult task to master. While there are a number of factors that feed into someone's ability to listen properly, one key element to remember is avoiding giving any form of advice unless the other person directly asks you.
"If you say anything beyond, 'I am trying to understand what it is you are telling me' and 'Is this what you are saying?', you have moved out of the scope of effective listening already," Quirk explained.
Essentially, if you find yourself saying things like, 'Have you tried ...', 'I did this and it worked' or 'I know someone who did this in the past and...' then you have moved well out of the effective listening space.
Why Do We Need To Be Listened To?
Being listened to is one way each of us feels accepted by those around us. Quirk says that having someone reflect exactly what we are feeling back to ourselves gives us the tools to grow in our own self-knowledge and understanding.
"It seems so feeble, if all you are doing is listening to someone and giving them back what they are saying -- 'how is that going to work?' But actually, it does because all people really want is for someone to fully engage with them and be able to communicate back that they really have understood their perspective and that's it," Quirk said.
"One of the reasons that we need someone who is in our lives that is an effective listener is that we don't pay much attention to what we say to ourselves. You have all these ideas but you don't listen to yourself. You provide your own answers you need someone to reflect back to us."Suggest a correction