Active listening involves providing your undivided attention to the someone through listening “not only with our ears, but with our eyes, mind, heart and imagination, as well” (Rogers, 1980).
The more you explore the topic of active listening, the more you will realise how passive the skill of listening can become without self-discipline.
In the counselling environment, it is vital to show that you are actively listening not only through words, but also body language (Liptak and Leutenberg, 2008).
Approximately 70% of communication is through body language and thus attending to one’s own body language as well as that of the person you are listening to can facilitate communication. For example, subtly leaning towards a person or mirroring their body language can demonstrate an interest in what is being said. It can also help the talker feel ‘heard,’ which is one of the key elements of counselling – having a place where you have a voice and your thoughts and feelings are heard.
In addition, body language (i.e. facial expression, clothing, complexion, etc.) can provide insight into a persons emotional world. If someone who usually dresses immaculately suddenly looks very unkempt, this might raise concerns and act as a signal that the person is currently struggling or in some kind of turmoil.
Two types of active listening include:
Paraphrasing and Summarising
These will be discussed in more detail in a future post.
Appropriate and timely questions can also be an effective method of demonstrating interest in someone, however, too many can become directive, taking you away from the talker’s agenda, resulting in the listener leading the conversation.
When questions are used, open questions requiring more than one-word answers are more productive for encouraging the someone to continue sharing their thoughts and feelings. An example of an open-ended question is, “Can you tell me some more about how that made you feel?” or “What brings you here today?” Indeed, open questions can be an effective method for initiating the beginning of a helping conversation.
Closed questions should be used minimally, but can be appropriate for gaining specific information, such as, “How long have you been taking the medication?” This example illustrates why closed questions should be used minimally; they are factual, whereas the helping and listening relationship is more about thoughts and feelings. When using closed questions, consider whether you are working according to the talker’s agenda or your own. The agenda should always be the talker’s. Furthermore, closed questions can be uncomfortable and feel more like an interrogation, hence why the police mainly use closed questions.