If you are attending paralegal school in North Bay, or if you want to become a community services worker, “active listening” is a term you’ll become very familiar with. What’s similar about these two careers is that they both demand a sophisticated level of communication with a client. The ability to differentiate between normal listening and active listening helps professionals better understand their client’s needs and develop more effective solutions to concerns or conflicts.
The Difference Between Listening and “Active Listening”
You may recall times in the past when you’ve attended a speech, ceremony (or even a movie) and have found yourself merely passively listening to the speaker. This means that you didn’t make the effort to understand the main ideas of the material, even though you are hearing the words. Signs that you’re only passively listening include fidgeting, checking your phone, or finding it impossible to explain what you’ve just heard to the person sitting next to you.
Building Trust with Active Listening
Active listening involves both verbal and non-verbal actions to signify that you are fully engaged. Even though you may not agree with the speaker, if you are actively listening, you’ll demonstrate that you understand – and care about – what they are saying. Active listening helps build trust between professionals and the people they serve, as well as among coworkers. By learning active listening skills, those in PSW training will build stronger relationships with their patients, who are likely struggling with illnesses or other challenges, and want to ensure that their needs are heard and understood.
How to “Actively” Listen
Signs that somebody is actively listening are: strong eye contact, head nodding, and smiling. Posture can say a lot about your attentiveness as well – active listeners typically lean slightly forward or off to the side, and also usually tilt their head to indicate intense focus. While these are all visual cues that one is actively listening, there are also non-visible ways to reflect your engagement.
For many active listeners, it’s helpful to write brief notes. Asking questions and involving yourself in the conversation is a great way to show that you are paying attention to what the speaker is saying and that you are interested in knowing more. To demonstrate your understanding, the active listener should take time to reflect on the speaker’s words, and summarize these concepts to confirm that they are both on the same page.
Follow-Up Actions for Active Listening
When working in community service or any career that involves counselling, it is important that you give the speaker time to rest after talking. This gives you time to reflect, and also time to express gratitude for what the individual has agreed to share with you. As a wrap-up, active listeners should give the speaker their interpretation of the key points in the conversation and share what they have learned.
Active listening calls for increased focus and commitment, which may be challenging at first when so many of us are used to merely “hearing.” That being said, this type of engagement is definitely worth it. It helps professionals improve at (and take more pride in) their jobs, and provide better support for the communities they serve.
What techniques do you use to ensure that you’re actively listening?