You know the folks that I am talking about. They’re not making eye contact, their arms are crossed, and they’re jumping on your words. They’re not listening to what you are saying…they are waiting for their turn to speak. In student affairs we encounter this frequently and even do the same to others without even realizing it. Through interactions with students, parents, co-workers, colleagues, and other stakeholders, we are constantly in situations where we can choose to be an active listener, or wait for our turn to speak our mind.
Have you ever caught yourself preparing in your head what you are going to say next to someone while they are literally still talking to you? You tune them out because you want to hit them with your unbelievable comeback, mic drop, and walk away? It might not even be a heated situation, it could be a casual conversation about what your plans are for the weekend, yet you still are preparing your answer instead of intentionally listening to the person. It is easy to do and we have all been guilty of it before, I am sure of it. It could be harmless and unintentional or you could just be that self-absorbed.
Active listening is an important tool to use and can make others feel heard and cared for. The act of focusing on what the person you are talking to is saying rather than what you want to say next allows you to intentionally connect and to truly gain understanding of what the other person is saying and how they are feeling. It is a customer service tool that is easy to use and can go a long way with others.
A simple tool to use to become a better listener is to be more Emotionally Intelligent (EI). In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer published a scholarly paper in which they coined the term emotional intelligence. They defined EI as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (Shankman, Allen 2008). If you sincerely listen you can help to affirm people and let them know they are a person of value, that they are important, and worth listening to.
Another tool that you can employ to be a more effective listener is to empathize with the person. Take a moment to put yourself in their position and what is going on in their head. Taking a moment to do this can help you connect with them and give you both a better experience. Even if you fall short, the other person will at least be able to see the attempt and will appreciate that.
By developing our own active listening skills, we can model the way to others. They in turn will become better listeners and we will feel heard, understood and respected. It is a small way that we can pay it forward and utilize active listening on a daily basis.
Shankman, M. L., & Allen, S. J. (2008). Emotionally intelligent leadership: A guide for college students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Megan Harre is the advisor for Fraternity & Sorority Life at Washington State University.