Communication is the key to positive, meaningful relationships in all areas of our lives—home, school, college, and career. Wherever we are in life, the ability to relate to others and communicate clearly gives us an advantage. In our SuperCamp programs we teach students some powerful tools for achieving clear, constructive communication and maintaining positive relationships.
This series includes the following communication topics:
- #1 – Open the Front Door: Communicate negative feelings with a positive approach
- #2 – Four-Part Apology: Quickly and authentically acknowledge and apologize for mistakes
- #3 – Three Conversation Don’ts: Avoid communication killers like reassurance, advice, and identification
- #4 – Active Listening: Pay attention to the words and the non-verbal communication in a conversation
- #5 – Visible communication: Make your intent visible, make your purpose clear
“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen,
we would have two tongues and one ear.”
One of the communication tools we teach students at SuperCamp has nothing to do with talking, yet it is a key element in building and enhancing relationships. Active listening will improve communication and relationships by developing mutual understanding and trust.
Active Listening—So Simple, and So Effective
Before we consider active listening, let’s clarify the difference between listening and hearing. First, listening describes an intentional activity. When we’re listening, we’re actively trying to hear something. Hearing, on the other hand, is inactive. We do this without thinking. We’re aware of sounds, but we’re not paying attention. When we truly listen in a conversation, we hear the other person’s words, not just sounds.
In active listening, we not only pay attention to the words the other person is saying, but to their non-verbal communication, or “body language.” So much of what we communicate to one another is not put into words. In fact, our eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and posture often say a lot more than our words. And this applies to both people in a conversation. It’s important that the listener shows the speaker that they’re being heard and that what they’re saying is of interest. When the listener provides feedback, the person speaking feels more comfortable and will communicate more easily and sincerely.
When someone is speaking to us and we truly listen to their words and notice their body language, it’s no longer just about sound. We hear and feel the other person’s thoughts, expectations, memories, beliefs, feelings. We connect with them, and in making this connection we strengthen our relationship with them.
Here are a few guidelines for practicing active listening:
- First, sit facing the other person with a relaxed and receptive demeanor.
- Put other things out of your mind and don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Shut off your phone.
- Maintain good eye contact.
- Really focus on what the person is saying, verbally and non-verbally.
- Actively show signs of listening throughout the conversation.
- Give encouragement by nodding your head, smiling when appropriate, affirmative words, etc.
- Show empathy with words or touch.
- Reflect feelings and content to show attention and understanding.
- Ask relevant questions to clarify what the person has said.
- If appropriate, ask open-ended questions to help the person share more feelings. For example, How did that make you feel? would help the person share their feelings. Note that questions like Were you hurt by what he said? or just Were you hurt? are dead-end question that only result in a yes or no response rather than further meaningful conversation.
- Be patient. Don’t jump in with questions or comments whenever there’s a pause. Give the person a chance to explore and express their thoughts and feelings.
- Avoid thinking about what you’re going to say next.
- Don’t interrupt. If you interrupt to make a point, you’re not listening.
- Try not to get ahead of the speaker by thinking about or assuming what they’re going to say next. Let them finish.
- Don’t be judgmental in thoughts or words.
- And last, but not least, remember the three conversation don’ts from #3 in this Communication Series: don’t deny, don’t resolve, and don’t me-too.
You’ll be amazed at the difference active listening will make in all your relationships. Give it a try—it’s so simple to show others you care about them, and about what they have to say.
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen.
Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. . . .
A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect
than the most well-intentioned words.”
―Rachel Naomi Remen
The next and last article in our Communication Series is about Visible Communication. When we make our purpose clear from the beginning of a conversation, it’s much easier for the other person to respond to us. Visible communication leads to more meaningful responses and strengthens relationships.
About the Contributor: Since 1982, SUPERCAMP, Monthly Mentor, has inspired and empowered thousands of teens to feel confident and motivated, and to excel in school and beyond. SuperCamp offers seven- and ten-day residential programs for students in middle school, high school, and first-year college. Living on a college campus is a great experience for pre-teens and teens and most of our grads go directly to a four-year college after high school. As teens from around the world gather at SuperCamp, they are inspired to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve, and they acquire learning and life skills that empower them to thrive in all areas of their life. Read More…
(See what some recent grads have to say about SuperCamp at www.supercamp.com/student-testimonials.)