Active listening

A key communication element (and tool) when mentoring is ‘active listening’.

Carlo Rogers, Psychologist and ‘inventor’ of the person-centred (or humanistic) approach, has written extensively on the topic. Below you find a summary of the ‘basics of active listening’ – taken from his article ‘Active Listening’, written together with Richard E. Farson.

Rogers and Farson (1987) state that when we are encountering a person with a problem, we need to refrain from giving ‘advice’. Rather, we should ‘actively listen’. Rogers and Farson (1987) claim that when people are actively listened to, they listen to themselves with more care – hence enhance the possibility of a ‘positive change’ in their life.

Active listening requires that ‘… we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us’ (Rogers & Farson 1987). In oder to do that, listeners need to pay full attention to the speaker (I am afraid, no mobile phones allowed).

When listening, listeners should listen for ‘total meaning’. ‘Not all communications is verbal. … And hence, truly sensitive listening requires that we become aware of several kinds of communication besides the verbal’ (Rogers & Farsons 1987). Often the feelings and emotions communicated are more important than the actual content of the message.

While listening, listeners need to demonstrate to the speaker that they are indeed listening – e.g by keeping eye contact, nodding, smiling, agreeing by saying ‘yes’ or simply ‘mmm hmm’. By doing that they communicate interest (I want to understand), respect (you are worth listening to) and openness (I am the person you can talk to) – and also acknowledge that the speaker has an important contribution to make.

To see if you have understood what has been said… Reflect in your own words what the speaker seems to mean by his words and actions. The speakers response will tell you whether he/she feels understood. As Rogers and Farson (1987) state, ‘A good rule of thumb is to assume that you never really understand until you can communicate this understanding to the others satisfaction’.

Video on the topic.

Source; Rogers, C. R. & Farson R. E. (1987). Active Listening. In: Communication in Business Today. Ed. Newman, R. G., Danziger, M. A. & Cohen, M. Washington, D.C.: Heath and Company.

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