Self-Transformation Series:
Issue No. 13

Active Listening

Table of Contents

  1. Why Important
  2. Three Levels of Listening
  3. Benefits of Active Listening
  4. How to Actively Listen
  5. The Art of Inner Listening
  6. Quotations

I. Why Important

Listening is a vital part of effective communication and relationship. Without listening, for example, one cannot really love. Without listening, parents often find their children difficult to handle or discipline, and they feel surprised that the children turn out to be wayward. Listening has a therapeutic effect. It is a doorway to self-awareness.

II. Three Levels of Listening

  1. Hearing - the words are heard but not understood or are ignored.

  2. Listening to the meaning - the meaning of the words are understood.

  3. Listening to the meaning and other non-verbal messages - including the hesitation, the feelings, the tone, etc., of the speaker.

III. Benefits of Active Listening

IV. How to Actively Listen

  1. Look at the person, and suspend other things you are doing.

    Avoid reading a newspaper while listening to your child. Put down the paper, look at your child, and listen intently.

  2. Listen not merely to the words, but the feeling content.

    A large part of human communication is not verbal. It includes the tone of voice, gestures, body language, inflections, etc. They often reveal the unspoken message of the speaker: anger, irritation, sadness, fear, etc. These non-verbal messages may be far more important than the words used. Be sensitive to them. If your son asks you if you are busy, it may be a cue that there is something important he wants to discuss with you.

  3. Be sincerely interested in what the other person is talking about.

    This is a hard part for many people, because they become bored listening to the opinions and woes of others. But remember that 1) you can always learn something from anyone, including small children; 2) you are doing service by really listening.

  4. Restate what the person said.

    This is a way of letting the person know that you understood not only the words but also the intent of the speaker. This is very important especially when there is conflict or when the other party is hostile. The usual tendency is to answer immediately the allegation of the other person. This creates further tension and distance. On the other hand, if the response is a restatement of what was said, the atmosphere gets less tense and the other person feels that you are sympathetic, even if you may not agree.

    Example: A customer is complaining about poor service, you may say: "You feel that our staff have not been attentive to your inquiries." In saying so, you are not saying that you agree or disagree, but that you understand her feelings.

  5. Ask clarificatory questions once in a while.

    This will let the other person know that you are actively listening and that you are really interested in what he is saying.

  6. Be aware of your own feelings and strong opinions.

    When we are not aware of our own feelings and strong opinions, we tend to express whatever reactions which may arise within us while we listen. Such reactions may cut off effective communication. Someone may be stating his religious views which you happen to disagree with. An initial impulse is to express your disagreement, which only starts an argument that may just harm your relationship but will convince neither you nor him. Be aware then that while you disagree, this is not the time to say so, but rather to understand the other person.

    Example: Your daughter decides not to go to school. You are angry and you want to scold and lecture to her. By giving vent to your anger, you may fail to understand the real reason why your daughter does not want to go to school, for she may be afraid that you will get more angry.

  7. If you have to state your views, say them only after you have listened .

    If someone speaks about an accident while he was riding a car, you may have a tendency to interrupt and tell him about your own experience when you had an accident. Let him finish first, and if you feel it is helpful, then relate your own experience.

V. The Art of Inner Listening

Genuine listening opens the door to self-awareness: awareness of our own feelings, thoughts and motives. In effect we are also listening and sensitive to our own inner states. This in itself is a very important path to discovery. It is the gateway to clarifying our own values, dealing with our own inner conflicts, and discovery our own intuition and spirituality.

VI. Quotations

Research shows that you have a greater impact on people by how you listen than by what you say.
-- Steven W. Vannoy, The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children

We could put up ten-foot banners around the house reminding our children how much we love them or how special they are, and yet these will have far less impact than a simple act of truly listening.
Steven W. Vannoy, The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children

Most of the successful people I've known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
Bernard Baruch

It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr.

I know how to listen when clever men are talking. That is the secret of what you call my influence.

Dear Lord, make me a better parent, ... Teach me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say and to answer all their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting them, talking back to them, and contradicting them. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them to be to me.
Gary Cleveland Myers

The art of conversation consists as much of listening politely as in talking agreeably.
George Atwell

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd preferred to talk.
Doug Larson

I have learned that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened. And what the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow.
James Stevens

It takes a great man to make a good listener.
Sir Arthur Helps

If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don't wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence.
Dale Carnegie

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Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Peace Center
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"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."