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Active Listening 101…

An important skill that I review with almost all of my couples therapy clients is “active listening”.

This is a helpful communication tool that when used properly can greatly enhance relationships (not just romantic relationships, this can help with friends, family and of course in the workplace).

Active listening provides a framework for talking about complex topics, and like anything…it does take some practice! Some of my clients have told me that it feels “odd” or “awkward” at first, which makes sense…as it is a bit different than the communciation patterns that many of us are used to. Active communication actually turns your normal rate of communication down a bit, into slow motion. (No – you don’t actually *speak* slower, but your reactivity and thinking slows down, allowing difficult conversations to remain contained, as opposed to spiraling out of control…)

Active communication can be broken down into the following simple steps:

1. Try to listen without interruption as the other person describes his/her feelings about the topic at hand. (Really listen, don’t simply think about your reply!)

2. Pause for a moment…(pause!)…and imagine what the other person might be feeling.

3. Reflect back what the other person has said, with a specific focus on how he/she might be feeling (remember you thought about this in step #2!). An example of this might be: “It sounds like you’re saying you’re feeling sad because…”

4. Validate the other person’s feelings. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree in any shape or form. It merely means that you are letting him/her understand that the message was received. An example of this might be: “I understand that you are sad…”

5. Try to offer support to the other person…and try to approach the problem as a team, as opposed to two individuals immersed in a battle.

The key concept here is to focus on keeping emotions and reactivity at bay. Try not to be critical or attack the other person. Working through difficult subjects is indeed a challenge, but if both parties can try to remain calm, there is a greater chance of a positive outcome. Remember, active listening really requires you to LISTEN – many of us are not used to listening and providing support to those around us…rather we prefer to have our own views heard! This can still occur, but you might be amazed at how much you can learn (and provide support to another person) just by LISTENING!


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