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WFH: What Does It Take To Be An Active Listener?

It starts with a general willingness to respect the potential worth of the other individual. Carl Rodgers and Richard Farson from the University of Chicago coined the term active listening in 1957. In their landmark article, they discuss the importance of considering the insights of other people and trusting people to have the capacity to be self-directed as absolutely imperative for effective listening. In other words, if the listener comes to the conversation with the position of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” effective listening is impossible. Rogers and Farson also picked up on the fact that when people are listened to, they tend to listen to themselves more closely, which puts them in touch with their own feelings and thinking. Active listening then is not only a way of receiving information but it is also a way of influencing the other person’s autonomy. Active listening supports independence and brings about positive changes in people.

A willingness to adjust our attention to absorb what is relevant and stay positive encourages understanding and comprehension. This is active listening. Active listening requires concentration and focus. In a F2F environment, we rely on making eye contact, nodding heads and body postures. Both verbal and nonverbal behaviors influence dialogue. We confirm our understanding by asking questions, repeating, rephrasing and not interrupting. Com-mon pitfalls are tuning into someone’s voice, stance or demeanor rather than the idea’s being presented. Our affections or emotions act like a filter for our attention, attitudes and willingness to adjust. Some people will augment their listening efforts by writing things down or asking themselves questions to increase focus and attention.

Active listening doesn’t insure that what is being communicated is what is being heard. “What I think I said is not what I think you heard” is a common problem brought about because we all construct our own thoughts and meanings. Metacognition is a term used to describe “thinking about thinking.” We construct or make meaning out of our thoughts by evaluating what we take in. We incorporate new information by associating it with what we already know. Meaning depends on prior knowledge and how we associate new input with what we know. We reflect on new information and ideas that are the same or different than our own. This evaluation cannot take place without active listening skills. Active listening is effective listening. Active listening s a way of listening to other people that improves mutual understanding (Campbell, 2011).

One of the things that makes active listening so powerful is that it does not threaten the individual’s independence, but rather supports it. Trying to change others through influence and threat only increases defensiveness. Your image of “self” and your beliefs are very deeply ingrained. So dee-ly ingrained that in many cases you believe these thoughts are facts. It is easy for you to accept and integrate experiences that support the image you have of “self.” When you have other experiences that do not fit with this image of self sometimes you don’t accept or admit to these at all.

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