How often have you spoken the phrase, "I just want you to listen," to a friend or loved one? Or perhaps you've been on the receiving end of this comment. A common issue in relationships is the frustration experienced when one partner does not seem to be listening to the others concerns. Stereotypically, this is the male who will jump to trying to fix the problem or appear preoccupied with another task. Regardless of who makes the comment, the implicit message of "I just want you to listen," is that listening is a simple endeavor.

As students in our classes have discovered, however, there is a lot more to it than "just" listening. This week we examined the skill of listening including active listening skills and barriers to listening. There is a reason this is referred to as active listening; it is an intentional, engaged process that requires a good deal of practice and effort.

Some typical barriers to listening include:

  • Lack of interest
  • Lack of understanding
  • Physical interferences (cold, hungry, uncomfortable, etc.)
  • Emotional interferences (fear, insecurity, doubt, etc.)

Some active listening skills include:

  • Reflections: These can include a literal paraphrase of the content of speech ("I heard that you got into a fight with your friend."), or a reflection of the underlying emotional content of speech ("It sounds like you're upset.").
  • Summaries: For longer stories it can be helpful to summarize the message that the speaker is trying to communicate
  • Ask clarifying questions: A simple question can go a long way in conveying that you are listening
  • Use of body language: Minimal encourages (head nods, eye contact, "uh-huhs" and "ok's") are an easy way to show that you are listening

Students in our classes have the chance to practice all of these skills and will continue to utilize these skills throughout the semester. Our lessons provides a unique environment where students can not only explore these skills, they can also receive immediate feedback from peers and teachers on how to improve. These are also useful skills to practice at home - simply asking your child to reflect what they heard will provide a good gauge of how much they were actually listening.

If you're not convinced of the importance of listening, consider Carl Rogers. Considered the father of person-centered therapy, Rogers created a paradigm shift in psychology by introducing the client-centered approach. Boiled down, this simply means being present and listening to the client without providing a lot of direction, advice and analysis. This approach is one of the first that is taught to graduate students in psychology and informs much of modern psychology. When it comes down to it, we're all seeking someone who will "just listen."

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