Last month in this column, the “I” message was introduced as an effective communication tool for the “sender,” someone who wishes to relay information. This month, we focus on active listening, an equally effective tool for the receiver of the message.
Whatis active listening? “Active listening” requires fully concentrating on what is being said to you in order to understand another’s perspective even, and especially, if it differs from
Whoshould use active listening? Everyone! As “receivers,”we should allow the speaker to finish his or her thoughts and ideas, without interrupting to “correct the facts.” For instance, suppose your spouse(using a proper “I” statement) says: “I was very upset when you got home at 7:30 last night, after you saidyou would be home at 6:30.” You would acknowledge
his feelings rather than interrupting to say “I got home
at 7:15! Stop exaggerating!”
Whyuse active listening? Active listening promotes mutual understanding. By listening to another person express their feelings, we show them that we are interested and respect them. The deep concentration we give them conveys that we care about the person speaking, not about having the last word or being right.
Whenshould you use active listening? All the time, but especially when there is a conflict about an issue. Set aside your own feelings about the topic and focus on trying to understand the perspective of the person sharing his thoughts with you. This is especially important when feelings of frustration are being communicated. Though your first instinct may be to react and defend yourself, hold back the impulse and instead try to understand whythe person feels the way they do.
Howdo you listen actively? This is a 3-part technique:
1.Mirror key points– simply repeat what you have heard the speaker say without adding any of your own commentary or corrections.
2.Validate their feelings– express how what they have said makes sense to you.
3.Empathize– If you have understood them correctly, you will be able to imagine their feelings. Try to vocalize your interpretation to them. If it turns out that you have guessed wrong, ask them to explain again.
Used together, active listening and “I” messages will increase understanding and decrease conflict between people. Try these techniques at home with your spouse, relatives or friends. I’m confident you will see a difference in your interactions!
I welcome your questions or comments about “I” messages and active listening. Email firstname.lastname@example.org your thoughts!
Mozelle Forman is a clinical social
worker in private practice for 20 years. She welcomes your comments at