Listening 6 – Active Listening


The ‘pièce de résistance’ of Listening
(for pronunciation…

There is a form of listening called ‘Active Listening’. On the listening skill menu, ‘Active Listening’ is the main dish, the showpiece, the pièce de résistance . In some respects, Active Listening is a skill that is not commonly seen in action. It can also called ‘Advanced Listening’ or ‘Deep Listening’.

Regardless of the name given, Active Listening is a powerful skill. It’s a form of listening developed for a specific purpose – to draw the speaker (and listener) closer to the present moment. In doing so, the speaker becomes more in touch with themselves and seamlessly moves into new territory, including glimpsing new horizons, noticing new options and possessing greater agency.

How it works.

Active Listening is comprised of a set of honed skills. Particular attention is payed to physical positioning of the speaker and the listener, i.e. optimising the inter personal space. The tenor of the conversation is non-directive and non-judgmental. In a disciplined way, only content brought by the the speaker is used. The listener needs to be be able to withhold their own content and remain settled, particularly during moments of quietness.

Getting into position for a good chat.

The active listener makes ample room for what is said and also gives attention to what is being said behind the words, listening for what is intended and for what is not being said. From there, simple reflections are spoken back to the speaker, including the essence of the content heard and checked for accuracy, and along with comment about the feelings felt by the listener. Attention might also be drawn to the spoken tone, vocal inflections and facial and body movements. In this way, subtle content is brought to the surface and the implicit is made explicit.

Don’t try this at home

Embarrassingly, I recall times in my early counsellor training when I would ‘try out’ at home some of these newfound skills. The result was not good. There would be a couple of reasons for this, including:-
* my skill level was poor and un-seamless,
* I underestimated its power, and
* there was no agreement for me to operate this way.
In essence, my ‘helpfulness’ was un-helpful.

Similarly, Active Listening is not a skill one would intentionally deploy in the coffee shop or in a public place; its implications can cause … embarrasment!

Active Listening is for situations where the environment is optimal. That is, stable, contained, private and safe – clinical. Also, Active Listening is for situations where the established relationship has become robust and trusted – therapeutic.

Hope for Re-formation

In my way of thinking, Active Listening is the most unsophisticated yet most powerful tool available to the counsellor. Its set of skills begin to shine where both client and counsellor are pitting their best against a problem – or where something is truly wanted but rests outside current reach.

As such, Active Listening offers great hope for bringing about a sense of connection and indeed, character re-formation (where it is wanted).

It is true, these skills are not often seen in full flight outside a counsellors office. Yet it is not essential that you be a counsellor in order to gently work with your self in conversations as they arise – to practice the principles of active listening. In fact, a most helpful practice is to take a few minutes of quiet reflection some time after an interaction, to ask yourself …
* How did I go there?
* How might I have noticed more?
* How might I have ‘held on’ to myself a little more?
* How might I have more honoured the Present Moment?

There is a tell-tale sign of when a facet of Active Listening has been deployed. Its when both people, speaker and listener, come away from a conversation somehow changed.

“You, and I, are worth slowing down for.”

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