The Art of Active Listening by Nick Gwynn

I know some people who are truly good listeners. When I spend time with them they seem genuinely interested in me, my thoughts, my perspective and my feelings. Spending time with them is satisfying and I usually come away feeling known, accepted, valued and appreciated. I don’t come away feeling as though I need to ‘change’ the way I am to be accepted by them, or have that disappointing sense that they have an agenda in the relationship, or they want to teach me something… or that they are in the friendship to get free counselling. Bottom line, from personal experience I know the value of being actively listened to.

From this place of personal experience on the ‘receiving end’, I have endeavored to learn and develop the art of active listening in my counselling service and in friendships. I don’t think the importance of it can be overstated. I also think we can be continually improving in this area. As someone once said, “We have two ears and only one mouth, therefore we should listen twice as much as we speak.”

When we are properly listened to, we feel free to talk about anything that is concerning us. It’s kind of like a “Permission Granted to Share” sign is placed in front of us. We don’t feel judged, criticized or rejected. In essence, we feel known and accepted. We don’t feel rushed, or as though we need to tell someone what we think they want to hear. We feel liberated to be honest and authentic in communicating our true thoughts and feelings. This is cathartic on an individual level. On a corporate level, this can reap profound results. Click here to check out an example of this, shared by psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud.

This dynamic of ‘feeling permitted to authentically disclose’ is particularly important, because feeling known and accepted is our deepest emotional need. Often, if we strip back the anger, depression, anxiety or frustration in people’s lives, we can find in them an aching need to be known and loved. This is also the basis of intimacy. As someone once said, Intimacy could be defined as ‘INTO ME YOU SEE.’ When we are actively listened to, we can feel ‘seen’, known, accepted and valued.

One of the biggest hindrances to active listening is our tendency to be more focused on what we are going to say, than what is actually being shared with us at the time. In this, we fail to be ‘present’ with people and unwittingly communicate to them disinterest. Whilst this habit is natural and all too common, it is possible to practice active listening until it becomes habitual, resulting in a form of communication that nurtures intimacy and respect.

In todays world there are also a myriad of distractions vying for our attention, that inevitably pull us away from attentive ‘in the flesh’ communication with people. One of the most destructive distractions is the  mobile phone. It is common for couples to complain about this potential enemy to intimacy in counselling sessions. This is undeniable evidence that people crave to be known and accepted through attentive listening.

In conclusion, there is no substitute for active listening.