Posted in Current Opinion in Psychologya recent article by HK Collins of Harvard University, reviews the latest research on high-quality listening.
This article is a selective summary of the article.
The benefits of listening
High quality listening is associated with many positive outcomes for both speaker and listener. For example, listening responsively, in a way that creates a sense of security and intimacy, fosters interpersonal chemistry.
At work, high-quality listening reduces burnout and increases well-being, confidence, engagement, job knowledge, job performance, job satisfaction, and leadership. And, according to a recent study, it even reduces loneliness (after experiences of rejection were revealed).
Listening is beneficial in many areas. For example, patients who feel listened to are more likely to adhere to their prescribed treatment, just as romantic partners who feel listened to generally fare better and are more satisfied with their relationship.
Feeling I listeneds also a pleasant experience, even if it is not directly related to be understood. In other words, people can feel listened to when they are not really listened to, just as one can to be listened to carefully but not to feel understood.
Show that we have listened
What is listening? It differs significantly from audience. In comparison, listening is less automatic and more active, intentional and demanding. It has three steps:
- To pay attention relevant aspects of the conversation.
- Interpretation and evaluate the content of the conversation.
- Showing that you listened to. This third step is necessary to makee the speaker to feel heard.
This last phase is also the only time when deception is possible. After all, the speaker can only guess, based on the listening expressions, whether his interlocutor really listened. These listening expressions include signals classified as non-verbal, paralinguisticand verbal, as described below.
Three expressions of active listening
Non-verbal cues a good listener1st body language cues such as leaning forward, nodding, maintaining eye contact and appropriate facial expressions (eg, smiling, frowning).
Paralinguistic signs of good listening refer to vocal effects that are not verbal. These include matching the speaking style or tone of voice of the speaker and making appropriate utterances – sigh, moan, say “hmm” or “uh-huh”, etc. These signals are important for communicating attention, interest, understanding, and establishing rapport.
At last, verbal behaviors that indicate active listening include (examples in brackets):
- Paraphrase, which means reformulate what someone said in order to communicate your attention and understandingg of it (“It’s ringing for me that you were reluctant to share these concerns with your mother. Is it correct?”).
- Clarification requests (“What do you mean by your brother is ‘out of it’ these days?”).
- Conversational Adoption, which refers to bbuild on the speaker’s contribution by acknowledging, repeating or expanding (“Talking to your father was a good first step”).
- Ask questions and follow up (“What happened after you talked to your father?”).
The Importance of Verbal Listening Cues
Note that many of the nonverbal and paralinguistic behaviors (e.g. nodding, saying “uh-huh”, eye contact) commonly associated with attentive listening are not directly related to the verbal content of what is said. Therefore, they can be interpreted by both attentive listeners and pretenders.
In short, the nonverbal and paralinguistic signs of good listening can be simulated.
These dishonest listening expressions may help the listener achieve short-term goals, but they prevent the pursuit of long-term goals like mutual understanding.
Therefore, to achieve long-term informational and relational goals, it is necessary to use reliable listingactivation cues—listening behaviors which are not easy to fake. It means to rely on verbal rather than paralinguistic or non-verbal cues.
A good example of such reliable indices is paraphrase. Why do you ask? Because restating what was said in one’s own words requires attention, cognitive processing of information, selection of the most important content, and communication of one’s understanding to the speaker.
Thus, paraphrasing is laborious and cognitively taxing. The same goes for good follow-up questions. A bad follow-up question would immediately reveal a lack of listening or remembering key information.
In summary, verbal expressions are direct, useful and reliable ways to show that you have listened. Indeed, listening with the intention using verbal cues later helps you listen better, pay more attention, and process information more deeply.
Paralinguistic or non-verbal cues (e.g. nodding, saying “hmmm”) are only useful for immediate listening expressions. The verbal signs of listening, on the other hand, are more important either:
Later in the conversation, to Californiall the speaker’s attention to a topic mentioned earlier in the conversation.
In future conversations: To refer to a discussion that took place hours, days or weeks earlier.
To take away
Listening involves paying attention, processing spoken information, and listening expressions. Only the last step allows the speaker to feel heard.
So how do you make someone feel heard, whether it’s a colleague, friend, romantic partner, parent, child, etc. ?
Here are some suggestions:
- Express listening when your interlocutor speaks: Use appropriate nonverbal and paralinguistic cues. Some examples are hisying “hmm” or “uh-huh”, nodding and leaning in.
- To express listening when it is your turn to speak: Use verbal cues, such as paraphrasing or asking thoughtful follow-up questions.
Use verbal cues whenever possible because they are difficult to fake compared to other cues (eg nodding, saying “mhmm”).
Verbal cues are honest expressions of listening and as such can promote relationship satisfaction, reciprocal honesty, and a greater willingness to disclose personal information.
Indeed, being heard is associated with increased well-being and relationship benefits like increased trust and, therefore, greater intimacy and relationship satisfaction. As Collins notes, the best listening is, against all odds, “spoken”.