Active listening.

When I was young, part of my English classes from as far back as grade-school, I was taught active listening.  In recent years I have found more and more that this is a lost skill – or one that hasn’t been continued in education to any extent.  What made me stop and do this post today (which some may think is off topic) was the blatant response to me restating- rephrasing what I had heard another say.  I was abruptly told “You don’t have to summarize or repeat everything I say.”  I was taken back and at the time didn’t know why I felt so disturbed by this person’s reaction until I took a moment and realized that they were not doing the same to me.  To push it a little further, I later asked if they remembered what I had said – the answer was NO – the conversation may has well never happened.  The reason I think this is an important post regardless of not being 100% about photography is the importance it has both in our friendships, our relationships, and our BUSINESS.  I let this go a few days until it festered a bit and was trying to decide if I was just being obnoxious or maybe it was a “mid-west” thing growing up.  I saw this as part of being a good communicator and active listing was always taught to me to be a way of listening with attention instead of only thinking of the next thing you were going to say.  I felt it was polite.

So, then I did a “google search” to see what a good definition for listening was and this is what I found on Wikipedia (you can find it at this link: Active Listening):

Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what he has heard in his own words, to confirm what he has heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

The ability to listen actively demonstrates sincerity, and that nothing is being assumed or taken for granted. Active listening is most often used to improve personal relationships, reduce misunderstanding and conflicts, strengthen cooperation, and foster understanding. It is proactive, accountable and professional.

When interacting, people often “wait to speak” rather than ‘hear’ attentively. They might also be distracted. Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the “function” of communicating objectively as opposed to focussing on “forms”, passive expression or subjectivity.

There are many opinions on what is “active listening”. A search of the term reveals interpretations of the “activity” as including “interpreting body language” or focusing on something other than words. Successful communication is the establishment of common ground between two people—understanding.Agreeing to disagree is common ground. Common ground can be false, i.e., a person says they feel a certain way but they do not. Nevertheless it is common ground, once accepted as understood. Dialogue, understanding and progress can only arise from that common ground. And that common ground cannot be established without respect for the words as spoken by the speaker, for whatever reason.

Thus the essence of active listening is as brutally simple as it is effective: paraphrasing the speakers words back to them as a question. There is little room for assumption or interpretation. It is functional, mechanical and leaves little doubt as to what is meant by what is said. “The process is successful if the person receiving the information gives feedback which shows understanding for meaning. Suspending one’s own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities are important to fully attended to the speaker.

It is my personal opinion that this is the CORE of good communication.  It assures people that you are listening to or talking with know you are invested in what they are saying.  

I’m also very interested to hear anyone’s opinion or thoughts on the matter, or if they have experienced some of the same reaction as I was faced with –  that it was bothersome to another to communicate like this.

2 thoughts on “Active listening.

  1. I think, communication is one of the most difficult things in life. Not only the question, if my opposite understands, what I am saying – also the question, in which way he does. Is he really understanding the essence of my words? Are there his wishes, his view of my person, too? His hopes, his temptations, his problems? There is so much!
    Second: What is the right way to talk? Live? Mail? On telephone? The good old letter? I think, there are some rules – you do not begin a love in a mail – so you can’t cut it in this way. And so on.

  2. I do this when I am either not sure of or want to verify what the other person is saying. I have not had a bad reaction such as you did (that was pretty rude). People generally seem to appreciate it when they know that you are listening to what they are saying. You encounter all kinds and I have pretty much learned not to take things too personally. I love your post photo – he is obviously being told something he is not interested in hearing :)

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