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In our current climate active listening skills are what will allow us to grow as individuals and as a community. However, active listening is difficult. We live in a world with constant distraction, seemingly endless stress, and never-ending to do lists, not to mention, change isn’t easy. So it’s no surprise most of us struggle with active listening, even if we don’t know it!

I believe active listening begins with self awareness. Self awareness doesn’t come easy and it is a practice that needs to constantly be honed. It’s hard work to be self reflective in a constructive and unbiased way. It’s even harder to then make adjustments to our beliefs and behaviors. Actively listening to those around us is the best way to sharpen our self awareness. So let’s lay out some groundwork to better understand what it means to be an active listener.

 

Avoiding Distractions

Cell phones, lap tops, television, music, games… all electronics! These cause distractions that inhibit us from engaging in active listening. Think about the last time you had a conversation with someone without any electronics tempting you? This is a tough one, try to remember the last time you had a conversation and didn’t have your phone at arms reach? Removing these distractions (temptations) frees us physically and mentally to be more engaged in conversation.

Many people, myself included, like to believe they are great at multi-tasking. However, if you are multi-tasking while participating in a conversation you are not actively listening. In fact, it’s been researched that only 2.5% of people are actually able to successfully multi-task. The constant need to be busy is keeping you from actively engaging in the present and causing unnecessary stress and a decreased level of productivity. 

By limiting your distractions you can consciously focus on what’s happening in front of you. Start with taking a walk around your neighborhood (leave your phone and music behind), take note of the flora and smells, details on the homes around you, the cracks in the sidewalk. You might be surprised at what you’ve missed despite walking past it 100s of times! The point of this task is to show you that it’s easy to miss what’s right in front of you if your focus is being pulled in many directions. It takes work to pay attention to one thing at a time, to steady your mind and allow yourself to be present in the moment. These are fundamental in building the groundwork for rockstar active listening skills.

 

Practicing Open-Mindedness

Having an open-mind means you are willing to challenge your current beliefs and critically think about topics being presented to you. Being open-minded takes patience, engagement, and self awareness.

Engaging in discussions with people who hold different opinions and beliefs than you can put you on the defense. Often we are so set in our beliefs and opinions that we want everyone else to think and feel the same way as we do. If the other person goes in with this same mentality, nothing constructive will come out of the discussion. However, if you go in with an open-mind, you may be able to shift your beliefs and opinions. You may also be able to influence others to be open-minded. Being open-minded provides a common middle-ground for deeper discussion.

Use what you practiced on your walk and devote your attention to the words and emotions being exchanged during your next conversation. Listen intently to appreciate what is being communicated. Be sure to allow yourself time to absorb it before you respond.

Follow these simple steps to be sure you are giving yourself the space to foster open-mindedness.
  1. Make eye contact and watch non-verbal cues.
  2. Ask probing questions to pull out more information and fully understand what is being said.
  3. Look for common-ground.
  4. Challenge your own beliefs and opinions.
  5. Repeat back (paraphrase) to show understanding.

Finding Perspective

Growth happens slowly because it’s difficult. Change happens slowly because it’s not easy. Adjusting your beliefs and behaviors is hard. However, exposing yourself to different perspectives is the best way to support growth and change.

Actively listening and engaging in uncomfortable conversations will provide you with different perspectives. Find value in these perspectives by applying them to your existing beliefs and behaviors. Look for the threads of commonality and build on those. Appreciate your own self awareness so you can be a voice of change and teach others the value of active listening.

 

Remember, if you focus on avoiding distractions and practicing open-mindedness, you will be well on your way to improving your active listening skills and achieving a higher level of self awareness.

 

 

P.S. Stress can seep in to your life and keep you from living in the present. Our team specializes in addressing the root causes of stress and anxiety. Read more here about how we can help you.