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All ears: mastering the art of active listening

All ears: mastering the art of active listening

Paying attention to others, helps build happier and healthier relationships
Active listening, listening, active listening and relationship, power of attention
Representational image | Shutterstock

It is easy to get caught up in our own thoughts and responsibilities in today fast-paced world, causing us to neglect actively listening or being part of a conversation. We may be immersed in thoughts about the tasks to complete or be distracted by our phones and social media. This can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of connection in our relationships. 

However, by making a conscious effort to practise active listening and limit distractions, we can improve our relationships and communication with those around us.  

Aditi Tulshyan, marriage and family counsellor and certified trauma therapist at XpressIt Mental Health Services in North Delhi, says that active listening involves listening 

  • with an open mind 
  • with empathy, and compassion  
  • without biases  
  • without reacting and providing the others a safe space to share their feelings

“Instead of jumping to conclusions about the other person’s behaviour, one can analyse the behaviour of the speaker based on what is being said, while being mindful of one’s own biases,” she adds.   

According to a study published in the International Journal on Transformations of Media in 2019, a lack of effective listening affects formal and informal relationships at the workplace. The study conducted on 123 respondents in Bhopal also suggests that effective listening decreases conflict, builds trust, and gives people the skills to inspire and motivate others on the job or in any other type of interpersonal engagement. 

Importance of this skill 

We need to be aware of distractions and make a conscious effort to refocus and actively listen. This fosters deeper connections and better communication in personal and professional relationships.  

According to Dr Ali Khwaja, a Bengaluru-based counsellor, columnist, and life skills coach at counselling centre Banjara Academy, “One can respond empathetically and gain a greater understanding of another person’s perspective through this skill.” He suggests practising active listening in all our relationships, including with friends, family, and partners, because it helps to build trust, understanding, and connection. It allows one to better understand the perspective and experience of others, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts. In short, active listening is crucial to build and maintain healthy, positive relationships.  

Ways to improve  

Dr Khwaja says that one should make conscious efforts to remain silent, show genuine interest (even if the topic appears boring), make gentle eye contact, and reflect the speaker’s emotions through one’s facial expressions. “One should make “hmmm…hmmm…” sounds, smile when appropriate, and briefly express one’s appreciation whenever possible.”  

To be an engaged listener, Tulshyan advises using the skills listed below: 

Being present in the conversation: It helps to pay attention to what is being said and respond accordingly. To avoid distraction, Dr Khwaja suggests putting the phone away, not looking at the clock, and sitting or standing in a relaxed position. 

Observe nonverbal cues: One should display open, non-threatening body language to demonstrate one’s attention to the other person. This entails not folding your arms, smiling while you listen, leaning in, and nodding at significant moments. The listener must display understanding and empathy through nonverbal signs like eye contact and nodding, as well as by paying attention to both the conversation’s content and emotional context.  

Ask open-ended questions to encourage further responses: To demonstrate one’s interest in the topic and the speaker, it is always recommended to ask open-ended questions. This would reduce the chances of any misunderstandings and make the other person feel understood.  

Listening without any perception: Perception plays a crucial role in any relationship. If one listens with biases, we can become judgemental and misunderstand the meaning of the conversation.  

Withhold judgement and advice: By being impartial and non-judgemental in one’s comments, one can encourage the others to feel at ease to speak their mind. Speakers feel secure when they know they will not be judged or criticised.  

Active listening, listening, active listening and relationship, power of attention
Illustration by Syalima M Das

Tulshyan recommends checking these three major points to build a healthy relationship: 

Accessibility: When individuals come and talk to us, do we prioritise them? 

Response: When individuals share something, how do we respond to their inner needs? 

Engagement: How important do we make others feel by engaging with them? 

In conclusion, active listening is a vital communication skill that can greatly improve relationships and interactions with others. It is a simple yet powerful tool that can be developed and practised by anyone and an essential skill for effective communication in any setting. 

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