Something I have been working on recently is active listening. To actively listen to someone means to be fully engaged in what they are saying, as opposed to passively hearing them. We often think we are doing this, but might be surprised how often we are actually having other thoughts, planning our own contribution to the conversation, or simply zoning out while others are talking.

When we actively listen, we not only impact the way we experience conversation, but the way those who are talking to us experience and feel in the conversation. Try out these strategies in the coming week and see how it feels.

  1. Just listen. Be aware of when you are planning out your own contribution to the discussion or conversation, or getting ready to tell your story that connects to what someone else is saying. Stop yourself and refocus on what is being said to you.

  2. Allow for moments of silence. When someone is telling you about their day, an experience they had, how they feel, or anything else, don’t respond immediately when they stop talking. You will find that if given the space, someone will continue talking, delving deeper into their thoughts than they would have if you had chimed in and steered the conversation elsewhere.

  3. Repeat back what you’ve heard. After the person speaking has finished talking and you are ready to respond, repeat back what you’ve heard. This can help to make sure you’re accurately understanding what they said and help them actually hear back what they’ve said in a different way.

These strategies can be used in any conversation, from informally catching up with a co worker about their weekend to talking to your best friend or partner about a personal crisis. They might feel unnatural, but they could also transform your interactions in increase your understanding of those around you, which is pretty cool.