Active listening: What is it? How and why to get started?

Active listening: What is it?  How and why to get started?

What does active listening consist of and in what types of situations can this mode of communication be put into practice? Insights and advice from communications advisor and trainer Christel Petitcollin.

“We are all suffering because of the lack of listening”, notes Christel Petitcollin, advisor and trainer in communication and personal development and author of the book “Learning how to listen: Simple and concrete techniques for communicating well” (Ed. Jouvence). And, she says, we all have huge listening blocks. The main listening blocks: allowing yourself to judge the person or make value judgments such as “But what idea did you also have” or even “you should act as if”. Likewise, asking questions indiscriminately, cutting people off, interrupting the other person to tell their story or responding by talking about themselves. “All these listening blocks prevent our interlocutor from speaking, from expressing themselves”she believes.

Active listening: definition

“Active listening is a desire, truly of the order of intentionality, of making yourself totally available to others, listening to their words with a real desire to understand them without judging them, defines Christel Petitcollin. Thanks to this method, the person will feel confident and secure, quick to confide about their problem or situation: what upsets them, makes them happy, stresses them, or worries them. Gold, “If before, people could go to church, to the confessional to confide, now, there is only the shrink who listens to us. It is still terrible to be forced to pay to feel listen”, she regrets. This communication technique was developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers, initiator of non-directive techniques.

Active listening: how to get started?

To practice active listening, here is what our communication expert suggests: Sit next to or opposite our interlocutor and explain to them that we are completely available to them, that we want to understand them and that we I don’t intend to judge him. Once in this posture, “it’s really about show interest for the person and to memorize what she said is what makes listening active”, she adds. How ? Via reformulation in particular. Indeed, once we have put ourselves in this position, active listening essentially consists of reformulating what the person said, without personal interpretation such as: “you say that, but in reality, you mean that.” Instead, we reformulate our message as follows: “so, if I understand correctly, you are telling me that…”. In this way, we check that we have really understood and our attitude proves to the other that we have really listened to them. This method of communication has a name: reformulation active. “Reformulation is a technique that we have all already used one day when reproaching the other for not having listened to us and asking them to repeat what we have just said to have proof”, underlines the communications trainer. According to her, this proves that thewe are all asking for reformulation and active listening. However, sometimes the other person pretends not to have listened to us, but is quite capable of repeating our words. “This listening where we pretend not to listen is called aversive listeningshe distinguishes.

Active listening VS aversive listening

“Profoundly destabilizing, aversive listening is practiced by manipulators”, observes the communications advisor and trainer. And for good reason, by pretending to do something completely different while we speak, the other gives us the impression of not being listened to, an attitude that destabilizes us. Another typical case is a doctor who fills out a file while saying to his patient: I am listening to you. Idem, even if human resources practice active listening more and more, it nevertheless happens that during a job interview within a company, to destabilize us, a potential future employer does something at the same time . Result, we don’t know if our interlocutor is really listening to us because we can see that he is doing something else and seems neither attentive nor available to us. Practicing aversive listening is therefore a pitfall to avoid when you wish to engage in active listening: here, you stop doing anything other than listening to the other and you look at them giving him our full attention. However, “Everyone practices aversive listening at times”, she concedes. For example, as parents, when our child wants to talk to us and we are doing something, if we say “go ahead, I’ll listen to you”.

Active listening and interpersonal communication

This way of listening is quite close to interpersonal communicationnamely a verbal interaction between at least two individuals who seek to communicate information or emotions well. “The principle of good communication is to only give your opinion after having successfully reformulated the other person’s opinion”, recalls Christel Petitcollin. And for good reason, if we present our point of view too early, it risks being taken as a contradiction.

Can we ask questions and be in active listening mode?

According to the communications advisor, when we put ourselves in “total listening” mode, we avoid asking questions, unless it concerns ask for clarification. “The problem with questions is that they scatter attention, the other loses track of what he wanted to say, she notes. Likewise, we tend to ask questions about what interests us, what satisfies our curiosity and not about what the other person wants to say. On the other hand, active listening can be supplemented with open questions like “do you want to tell me more about?” “, ” what is your opinion ? » and not “don’t you think that would be a good idea?” », often rich in information.

What is active listening for?

The goal of active listening is, primarily, to retrieve high quality information. “In active listening, we carry out a qualitative interview allowing the person to really tell us about what they want”, explains the specialist. And, the more we practice this mode of listening, the more our interlocutor opens up, because he feels confident, free to share his message with us. However, it feels good to be able to talk about things that we haven’t been able to talk about until now, and it allows the person to deliver very valuable information. To note that “It’s not a waste of time to listen, on the contrary, we gain time”, she assures. Indeed, the better we listen, the more relevant our response will be. Thus, a salesperson, for example, can increase his sales figure by listening better to his customer’s expectations. Another advantage of active listening: it allows us to develop our skills in terms of attention and memorizationbecause we are obliged to concentrate and, by reformulating our words, to really imprint the information.

Good in his body, good in his head!

When and with whom to practice active listening?

This way of listening works in all areas of life. Thus, learning to know how to listen can be useful for doctors, therapists, but also for business leaders, parents and even teachers. For example, at work, this can allow a boss to listen better and understand his team, its needs, its difficulties. To also prove to her that she has value, that her opinion counts. “By making yourself more available, listening attentively and without judgment, you obtain more and better quality information”, underlines Christel Petitcollin. Likewise, it constitutes one of the keys to resolve conflictswhether at home, with children, in our relationship with our spouse, our relationships with our friends, our loved ones or with our work colleagues. The reason according to the coach: there is a rule in communication which is that “every feeling expressed or heard subsides”. If someone actually hears how angry, upset or sad you feel, you immediately feel better afterwards. This communication process, based on empathy, soothes emotions. And for good reason, by reformulating, we practice mirror listeningand not sponge listening. “We do not absorb the emotion of the other, but we allow the person to look at their life externally”, she explains. In our mode of education, as parents, this will allow the child to open up more easily, to express and release his emotions (anger, sadness, fear, frustration, etc.). In fact, not only will he feel better, but by really listening to him, we will also be able to better understand some of his problems and reassure him, because the child does not always perceive things the way we do. This process also works in the case of a friend going through a painful breakup: listening to them fully will allow them to feel better by releasing everything that is on their heart. Finally, Christel Petitcollin concludes with an important element according to her: listening must remain a consented choice at all times. “We must not force ourselves to listen. If we are not emotionally available or have things to do, we might as well not pretend, because we will not succeed”. Her advice then: do not hesitate to say, including to our children: “I’m sorry, I’m not available to listen to you, but in a moment, I’ll be all yours.” This mode of listening should not last forever either. But, “normally when we listen to others well, we drain them more quickly, because quality replaces quantity….