Connect with a partner through empathy and understanding.
Time Required: At least 10 minutes. Try to make time for this practice at least once per week.
Find a quiet place where you can talk with a conversation partner without interruption or distraction. Invite him or her to share what’s on his or her mind. As he or she does so, try to follow the steps below. You don’t need to cover every step, but the more you do cover, the more effective this practice is likely to be.
Often we’ll listen to a conversation partner without really hearing him or her. In the process, we miss opportunities to connect with that person—and even risk making him or her feel neglected, disrespected, and resentful.
This exercise helps you express active interest in what the other person has to say and make him or her feel heard—a way to foster empathy and connection. This technique is especially well-suited for difficult conversations (such as arguments with a spouse) and for expressing support. Research suggests that using this technique can help others feel more understood and improve relationship satisfaction.
Active listening helps listeners better understand others’ perspectives and helps speakers feel more understood and less threatened. This technique can prevent miscommunication and spare hurt feelings on both sides. By improving communication and preventing arguments from escalating, active listening can make relationships more enduring and satisfying. Practicing active listening with someone close to you can also help you listen better when interacting with other people in your life, such as students, co-workers, or roommates.
Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.
Participants had brief conversations (about their biggest disappointment with their university) with someone trained to engage in active listening, someone who gave them advice, or someone who gave simple acknowledgments of their point of view. Participants who received active listening reported feeling more understood at the end of the conversation.
Instructions adapted from: Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S.L. (1994). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Active Listening involves approaching a conversation with a genuine desire to understand the other person’s feelings and perspective, without judgment or defensiveness. When you engage in Active Listening, you tune into what your conversation partner is communicating with their words and body language. How well do you feel and understand what others are feeling? Take the Empathy quiz (at Greater Good in Action) to find out.
This practice originally appeared on Greater Good in Action, created by the Greater Good Science Center. For more, visit Greater Good in Action.
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