Student Life

Counselling and Personal Development



Listening is something we do all day every day, but how well do we really do it? Conflict, interpersonal problems, frustration, missed opportunities and anger can all occur when we’re not actively listening. When we do, there is a sense of harmony, a feeling of acceptance and being understood, transference of knowledge and ideas, an ability to maximise opportunities and honesty.

Active listening doesn't just happen; it is something we need to work on. How many times in a conversation or in a meeting, do you find yourself:

  • thinking about something else
  • wanting to interrupt because you know something better or you think you already know what the speaker is going to say
  • looking out the window
  • making silent comments on what you think of the person, what they are wearing, what's being said or what's going on around you
  • worrying about whether or not they will ask you something and if you will know the answer
  • trying to work out what that noise or smell is
  • rehearsing how you are going to explain yourself to your partner/friend/parent

If you are doing any or all of these, then you are not practising active listening and are running the risk of missing the key point, being in a different conversation altogether and/or losing the other person's respect.

Components of communications

There are a number of elements to communication and each has impact on how we listen. In general, we communicate with:

  • body language and gestures
  • tones and inflections
  • words.

Most of us take in information best through our eyes. In fact, 85% of everything that gets into our brain enters through our eyes.

'Why do you always walk around with a pad and pencil, Uncle Albert?'
' So I can see what I am thinking.'
Albert Einstein

In active listening, being aware of what you are seeing, feeling and hearing is important.

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Quick tips

Active listening can be achieved! These are some tips to help you:

  • minimise environmental distractions, i.e. don't face out the window, move away from other groups, be aware of what may be distracting you and try and minimise its impact
  • avoid interruptions wherever possible - this means switching off the mobile phone, closing the door, letting people know you aren't available at that moment
  • pay attention with your whole body - don't do something else like fiddling with your hair, checking your nail polish or polishing your shoes. It is also helpful to think about how you are sitting and using your physical energies
  • make eye contact
  • show interest - if you look bored or have turned off, then it is more than likely the other person will too and communication (the sharing of thoughts, knowledge and ideas) will not occur
  • ask open-ended questions - these are question that don't elicit a simple yes or no answer but ones that encourage discussion and further exploration of the issues
  • listen to the feelings behind the message
  • confirm and clarify what you have heard - don't assume you have got the message; restate it in your own words, clarify, make sure. This process also allows the other person to check that they have given you all the information you need

Active listening allows you to show that you respect the other person's point of view and are prepared to listen to it and make sure you understand it. It does not mean that you agree or disagree with everything they have said; it means that you have listened and heard them.

Taking it further

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17th March 2011