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Active listening is a way of "listening for meaning" in which the listener checks with the speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding. When interacting, people often are not listening attentively to one another. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next, (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements).
Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding. It focuses attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference and suspending judgement, are important in order to fully attend to the speaker.
It is important to observe the other person's behavior and body language. Having heard, the listener may then paraphrase the speaker’s words. It is important to note that the listener is not necessarily agreeing with the speaker—simply stating what was said. In emotionally charged communications, the listener may listen for feelings. Thus, rather than merely repeating what the speaker has said, the active listener might describe the underlying emotion (“you seem to feel angry” or “you seem to feel frustrated, is that because…?”).
Individuals in conflict often contradict one another. This has the effect of denying the validity of the other person’s position. This can make one defensive, and they may either lash out, or withdraw. On the other hand, if one finds that the other partly understands, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created. This increases the possibility of collaborating and resolving the conflict.
Active listening is used in a wide variety of situations, including interviews in employment, counselingetc. In groups it may aid in reaching consensus. It may also be used in casual conversation to build understanding.
The benefits of active listening include getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict and building trust.
- Active Listening International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict: Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA
- Empathic listening skills How to listen so others will feel heard, or listening first aid (University of California). Download a one hour seminar on empathic listening and attending skills.
- Exercise 4 — Active Listening, Center for Rural Studies, University of Vermont, Montpelier
- What is active listening?
- Active listening: A communication tool
- Homepage of the International Listening Association The professional organization whose members are dedicated to learning more about the impact that listening has on all human activity
- Guidelines for Active Listening and Reflection
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