Listening: this is a really useful tool for progress, whether in recovery from addiction or growth in other areas of our lives!

It isn't easy to be an active listener in today's world, which is filled with so much noise, so many distractions, and too much to do.  Instead of emptying our minds so we can really hear what someone is saying, we are often too preoccupied with our own unrelated concerns or too eager to get our point across that we don't really pay attention to the speaker.

But deep listening can be transformational. It conveys respect and empowers the speaker. When you listen attentively to someone, you convey the message, "This is important; you are important."

An adult who listens respectfully makes a better employer, coworker, spouse, parent and friend. A child who is listened to attentively is more likely to share things with a parent.

"It's so important not to minimize what children say," said the counsellor. "Shame-based systems begin in childhood. If children are ignored or responded to with a silly quip, they may think they're not deserving of being heard and they might act out in negative ways."

Active listening takes time and practice, but it is a worthwhile skill we can all learn and hone. Active listeners learn to suspend lecturing, squash the desire to talk about themselves or their experiences, and avoid downplaying a speaker's concerns.

Practice the following active listening strategies and see what changes in your relationships:

  • Whether the speaker is your child, your spouse, your friend, or your boss, give them your full attention by focusing on them and what they are saying. Turn off the television, the radio and your computer and turn toward the speaker so you can observe their body language.
  • Show you are listening by asking for clarification when needed, by making eye contact and by adding an occasional "uh-huh," "I see," or nodding your head. "Listening isn't only done with the ears," said Jayme. "Our body language, our way of dressing, and our environments all send a message."

Show that you understand by occasionally paraphrasing what another person has said by asking things such as "Are you saying such and such?" or "What I heard you say is. . ."

Try to listen without judgment and resist the urge to interject your opinion.  Make room for silence and give the speaker time to gather thoughts. It's fine to ask if they're done speaking before you respond.

  • Don't give advice or diminish the speaker's experience or reactions. For example, if a child is upset that a teacher reprimanded him or her, don't infer blame by asking "What did you do?" or trivialize feelings with "There's nothing to be afraid of." Instead, validate feelings by saying something like "That must have been difficult" or "Sometimes new things are scary."
  • Pay attention to how good you feel the next time you are really listened to and notice what the listener did to make you feel that way. Then try those same techniques when it is your turn to listen.

"Come forward with a learner's mind and be open," said a counselor at Hope Trust. "We all need to feel we are being heard; that we are cared about, and that what we say has meaning and importance."

So learn to listen, and listen to learn.