This section needs expansion with: Summarise what active listening is. You can help by adding to it. (March 2021)
Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented. This form of listening conveys a mutual understanding between speaker and listener. Speakers receive confirmation their point is coming across effectively, and listeners absorb more content and understanding by being engaged. Active listening was introduced by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson.
Carl Rogers and Richard Farson coined the term "active listening" in 1957 in a paper of the same title (reprinted in 1987 in the volume Communicating in Business Today). Practicing active listening also emphasized Rogers' (1980) concept of three facilitative conditions for effective counseling; empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. Rogers and Farson write: "Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development. Listening brings about changes in peoples' attitudes toward themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and personal philosophy. People who have been listened to in this new and special way become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian."
Active listening comprises several components by the listener, who must pay attention to what the speaker is attempting to communicate and elicit clarification where necessary for comprehension.
Active listening involves the listener observing the speaker's non-verbal behavior and body language. The listener can observe non-verbal behaviors through kinesics, the study of body motion and posture, paralinguistics, the study of the tone of words, and proxemics, the study of physical distance and posture between speakers. Having the ability to interpret a person's body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker's message as body language conveys more meaning than the words that are spoken.[clarification needed] According to a study conducted by Albert Mehrabian, 55% of communication is non-verbal. Non-verbal cues such as tone, inflection, gestures, and facial expression provide the listener further insight into what the speaker is trying to convey.
The first step in the active listening process is that of comprehension. Comprehension is a shared meaning between parties in communication. This can be done through top-down or bottom-up listening strategies. Top-down listening for comprehension will involve preparing for what message is likely going to be given, attempting to organize what is being communicated, and listening for summarizations or shifts in topic. Bottom-up listening for comprehension will involve an attentiveness to emphasized words such as longer or louder words. In addition, careful attention should be paid to repeated parts of the message being communicated. Attentiveness can be emphasized not just in one's ability to listen, but to listen and respond with sensitivity to particular needs or cultural norms. For example, if you are listening to someone communicate through a disability such as severe lower-functioning autism, you will need to pay close attention and forego common methods of organizing information as it is received. In many of today's cultures, comprehension may include a knowledge of people using neutral pronouns or preferred pronouns. In order to listen for comprehension, it will be important for a receiver to be aware and understand these cultural norms.
Retaining is the second step in the process. Memory is essential to the active listening process because the information retained when a person is involved in the listening process is how meaning is extracted from words. Because everyone has different memories, the speaker and the listener may attach different meanings to the same statement. Memories are fallible. Poor memory retaining techniques like cramming may cause information to be forgotten as our brains have a limited capacity to process more than one thing at a time.[clarification needed] Retaining information from messages being received is increased with the amount of attentiveness the receiver gives to what is being communicated. For example, information is best retained in adults if the adult has experience in what is being said, communicates back and forth with another communicator about the topic, and maintains visual contact with the source of the message being sent.
There are three basic steps in the following order:
- Paraphrase: Explain what you believe has been said in your own words.
- Clarify: Ensure you understand what has been said through asking questions.
- Summarize: Offer a concise overview of what you believe the main points and intent of the message received are.
Here are the guidelines to help better fine tune one's ability to follow these steps:
- Keep your attention on the message being presented
- Refrain from thinking about your own response to what is being presented.
- Refrain from offering judgement on anything the other person says.
- Observe non-verbal content. These are their own kind of communication which can be clarified by the active listener.
Active listening can be assessed using the active listening observation scale (ALOS).
Barriers to active listeningEdit
There are a multitude of factors that may impede upon someone's ability to listen with purpose and intention; these factors are referred to as listening blocks. Some examples of these blocks include rehearsing, filtering, and advising. Rehearsing is when the listener is more focused on preparing their response rather than listening. Filtering is when a listener focuses only on what they expect to hear, while tuning out other aspects of what is being said, and lastly, advising is when the listener focuses on problem solving, which can create a sense of pressure to fix what the other person is doing wrong. Some barriers are due to hunger or fatigue of the listener, making them irritated and less inclined to listen to the speaker. Sometimes it is due to the language the speaker uses—such as high sounding and bombastic words that can lead to ambiguity. Other barriers include distractions, trigger words, vocabulary, and limited attention span.
Individuals in conflict often contradict each other. Ambushing occurs when one listens to someone else's argument for its weaknesses and ignore its strengths. This may include a distortion of the speaker's argument to gain a competitive advantage. On the other hand, if one finds that the other party understands, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created.
"Shift response is the general tendency of a speaker in a conversation to affix attention to their position." This is a type of conversational narcissism—the tendency of listeners to turn the topic to themselves without showing sustained interest in others. A support response is the opposite of a shift response; it is an attention giving method and a cooperative effort to focus the conversational attention on the other person. Instead of being me-oriented like shift response, it is we-oriented. It is the response a competent communicator is most likely to use.
Understanding of non-verbal cuesEdit
Ineffective listeners are unaware of non-verbal cues, though they dramatically affect how people listen. To a certain extent, it is also a perceptual barrier. Up to 93 percent of people's attitudes are formed by non-verbal cues. This should help one to avoid undue influence from non-verbal communication.[clarification needed] In most cases, the listener does not understand the non-verbal cues the speaker uses. A person may show fingers to emphasize a point,[clarification needed] but this may be perceived as an intent by the speaker to place their fingers in the listener's eyes. Overuse of non-verbal cues also creates distortion, and as a result listeners may be confused and forget the correct meaning.
Overcoming listening barriersEdit
The active listening technique is used to improve personal communications in organizations. Listeners put aside their own emotions and ask questions and paraphrase what the speaker says to clarify and gain a better understanding of what the speaker intended to say. Distractions that interrupt the listener's attention are one of the major barriers to effective listening. These include external factors such as background noise and physical discomfort, and internal distractions, such as thoughts about other things and lack of focus. Another barrier is misinterpretation of what the speaker is attempting to communicate, including assumption of motives, and "reading between the lines", as is premature judgment of the speaker's point, which can occur as a consequence of the listener holding onto a rigid personal opinion on the topic. This problem can be mitigated by asking the speaker what they mean when it is unclear, though this is not guaranteed to work every time.
A strong disagreement hinders the ability to listen closely to what is being said.  Eye contact and appropriate body languages are seen as important components to active listening, as they provide feedback to the speaker. The stress and intonation used by the speaker may also provide information to the listener, which is not available in the written word.
Active listening is used in a wide variety of situations, including public interest advocacy, community organizing, tutoring, medical workers talking to patients, HIV counseling, helping suicidal persons, management,counseling, and journalistic settings. In groups it may aid in reaching consensus. It may also be used in casual conversation or small talk to build understanding, though this can be interpreted as condescending. See e.g. Burkhardt, Hugger et al.[clarification needed]
A listener can use several degrees of active listening, each resulting in a different quality of communication. These degrees include repeating to indicate attentiveness, paraphrasing to signify understanding, and reflecting to acknowledge perspective and application.
The proper use of active listening results in getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict, and building trust. In a medical context, benefits may include increased patient satisfaction, improved cross-cultural communication, improved outcomes, or decreased litigation.
Active listening in musicEdit
Active listening has been developed as a concept in music and technology by François Pachet, researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris. Active listening in music refers to the idea that listeners can be given some degree of control on the music they listen to, by means of technological applications mainly based on artificial intelligence and information theory techniques, by opposition to traditional listening, in which the musical media is played passively by some neutral device
A Munich-based marital therapy study conducted by Dr. Kurt Hahlweg and associates found that even after employing active listening techniques in the context of couple's therapy, the typical couple was still distressed.
Active listening asks couples to perform Olympic-level emotional gymnastics when their relationship can barely walk. . . . After studying some 650 couples and tracking the fate of their marriages for up to fourteen years, we now understand that this approach to counseling doesn't work, not just because it's nearly impossible for most couples to do well, but more importantly because successful conflict resolution isn't what makes marriages succeed. One of the most startling findings of our research is that most couples who have maintained happy marriages rarely do anything that even partly resembles active listening when they're upset.
Robert F. Scuka defends active listening by arguing that:
...a careful reading of the Hahlweg et al. (1984) study reveals that Gottman cites only certain (one-sided) results from the study. He also overlooks several important considerations that call into question his implied dismissal of the RE model as a legitimate therapeutic intervention for distressed couples.
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