The Art Of Active Listening

The Art Of Active Listening

How much do we really listen to other people's conversation; the sounds of nature; the lyrics to a song; the intricacy of music,; the individual noises in a busy urban environment., our own breathe and heartbeat.? Like with all our five senses, we limit our focus on specific sounds and vibrations, as there is a continual noise around us. By habit and design; we only consciously or sub consciously take note of the familiar sounds which we decipher from the whole. Yet do we consider how much more our lives could improve and benefit if we took more notice of individual sounds, vibrations and messages which pass through us unnoticed. Active listening is the art of increasing our capacity of hearing frequencies, sounds, tones, chords, words, sentences and the message being portrayed, across a wider bandwidth, whilst deciphering, comprehending, analysing,and responding effectively. It can be difficult to maintain a consistent level of listening with intent over a specified period of time, as we can experience, lack of will power; lack of interest; mental interference; misunderstandings based on our own bias; a need to fix it’; our own egotistical instinct to offer advice, opinion.or disagree. Research On Levels Of Listening There has been much research in to the levels of listening with The International Listening Association (ILA, 2012) describing listening as, “the process of receiving, constructing meaning from and responding to spoken and / or nonverbal messages”. Carl Rogers, (1902-1987) a humanistic psychologist, was instrumental in researching in to levels of listening. One level he identified was active listening. He noted the benefits it can have aiding communication between two or more people. Rogers talked of his discovery of the importance of listening with understanding. That this can help build trust and create an environment of understanding rather than an impulse to react, evaluate or judge either approvingly or disapprovingly to what another person is saying. Coaching The Art of Active Listening The coach’s role is to create a trusting partnership and a safe environment where the coachee can explore their own behaviours and beliefs to better their own self development and performance. Listening is one of the essential techniques which are indispensable to any coach. It is interesting to consider that active listening contributes most to the coaching environment as a significant building block to building trust and rapport for a successful coaching session. There are many descriptions of active listening with varying components. Part of this is hearing the words of what is being said with an awareness of vocal changes in tone, speed and pitch. Other techniques, which are not purely based on listening with our ears, include visual responses from the listener by nodding or subtle verbal responses such as uh – huh, nodding and eye contact. Further elements comprise of observing the speakers body language, awareness of their reactions to words they are speaking. On top of this is our own awareness as the listener of our body language and how we ‘show up’ and interact with the coachee. This includes refraining from judgement. Our own internal dialogue may start based on what we think of the content and although we may not share verbally, it can be shown through our body language or facial expressions. We are all human and have our own belief and value systems, the importance is to focus on the dialogue rather than our interpretation and judgement of the content. It is essential that the coach has an acute sense of awareness both of themselves as well as the coachee. These might appear to us as simple components and yet it is important to make them authentic. The common theme is the need for the listener or coach to understand both content and feeling of the speaker and at the same time not show judgement. Research has identified this as telling the speaker they are worth listening to. Active listening is an integral part of coaching, being at a deeper level and offering many benefits to the relationship and interaction between two people: . It is important the importance for the listener to identify both words and thoughts as well as what the coachee is feeling. The process can be aided by the use of questions to encourage further talking by the coachee. Developing Active Listening Techniques Here are six techniques which will help to develop the overall impact of active listening: 1. Paraphrasing – the coach using their own words to explain what they think the coachee has said. 2. Reflection or echoing – the coach shares their interpretation of what the coachee is feeling. This can also be associated with showing empathy. 3. Neutral technique – eye contact, head nodding or subtle verbal responses such as uh-huh. 4.Non Judgemental - avoiding judgements, evaluating or commenting by approval or disapproval 5. Clarifying technique –asking for further clarity around the coachee’s words with questions such as ‘tell me more about that?’ 6. Summarisation – summarising the coachee words into a concise statement.

Positive Results of Active Listening Research suggests that individuals, who received active listening coaching felt more understood, produced rewarding and positive outcomes as well as building stronger relationships. Whilst negative results and unsatisfying relationships created the outcome of poor or ‘not’ using active listening skills. Active listening appears far from an easily learnt skill due to the complexities of the interaction of each element within the coaching conversation. It requires more concentration to be able to show the coachee that you have an understanding of the content, their feelings and underlying beliefs and values without judging them. By managing one's own personal responses to the coachee’s words, enables the listener to show empathy authentically. Active listening can be a conduit to building trust, creating a safe and honest environment for the coachee to share their thoughts and feelings and reflect on their beliefs and behaviours as a catalyst for change. Active listening takes substantial awareness and is not an easy skill to develop. By placing yourself in front of a coachee and listening to them speak, you may encounter internal interference. This could be distracting and might impact negatively on your ability to listen actively. The mind cannot refrain from making mental judgements, based on our values and beliefs that will impact and cloud out thoughts. This internal conversation can continue and may include filters or assumptions about what the coachee has said. During a dialogue, the listener needs to use active listening skills to encourage the speaker, and show empathy and understanding; this can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of each other. By making judgements, evaluating or commenting by approval or disapproval will impede the flow of conversation, affecting the speaker's ability to share their true thoughts and feelings Another consideration is how we use active listening in different coaching environments. Certain aspects of active listening are much easier in face to face sessions where you can absorb visual clues from the speaker. When you are coaching over the telephone it may heighten the listening experience and you notice the changes in the voice more readily and yet you have less opportunity to witness the speaker’s expressions. By understanding that listening is far greater than hearing the spoken word but also picking up on subtle verbal and non-verbal cues, a reflection might be how we become more aware as coaches to identify these. This leads on to the importance of being conscious to the coachee, an awareness of being in the moment. How we prepare for each conversation can greatly impact on the quality and outcome for the coachee. The use of mindfulness as preparation and centring prior to a coaching session may prove invaluable. This enables the coach to be present for the coachee and avoid personal assumptions.

The Conscious Competence Model The Conscious Competence Model by A Maslow; is a good model to reflect upon during a coaching journey. Cube 1. How good are my listening skills? Cube 2 – Better understanding of any short comings Cube 3 – Practising active listening more consciously Cube 4 – Further practise, reflect and ask for feedback to lead to an unconscious competence. The challenge is to become consciously aware and focused on the coachee. This will enable further practise and development of listening skills so that it becomes an unconscious competence. These techniques will improve your overall listening skills, creating harmonious conversations, greater understanding, empathy, tolerance and a sense of well-being in your life and relationships with others.

Michael J Robey

Psychic Medium | Psychic Investigator

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