In the practice of communications, we say that effective “communication” only truly happens when a sender gives a message to the receiver AND the messenger can repeat back the message (in context and with understanding) back to the sender.
Rogers & Farson’s Theory of Active Listening is similar.
Active listening is not just giving your total focus to the speaker; it’s more than that. It involves putting yourself in their shoes completely, and genuinely trying to grasp the emotions and point-of-view behind the words. In order to do this, we must take several key steps.
First, we must listen for total meaning. The total meaning includes both the verbal words spoken, and the feeling or attitude behind the meaning.
Second, we must respond to feelings conveyed by the sender. We must try to understand and remain sensitive to the meaning behind the message. For example, if someone tells you to “Go fly a kite!” they likely aren’t actually insinuating you head to a large, open space with a cloth tied to a piece of string. There is meaning behind the words.
Lastly, we must note all cues. Any intuitive husband will tell you that not all cues are verbal! I like to tell my public relations students, that the silent treatment, or even simply saying “no comment” to the media conveys a huge amount of negative meaning.
This strategy really hit a personal chord with me. Perhaps it resonated so loudly for me due to my background and deep interest in communication practices? It could also be the fact that Active Listening is an area of personal weakness for me, that I recognize and want to improve upon.
Epictetus famously said: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” As a professional communicator, I truly feel that the best communicators are the ones with the best “listening” skills.
Personally, I have to make a huge effort to actively listen, instead of jumping in to participate. My enthusiasm is not always appropriate, and can likely be incorrectly interpreted as rude interruptions.
I also have a fear of not having a chance to get my point of view across. I’m not sure why this is but I know I have a desire to have my feelings and opinion heard, possibly so there is nothing “left” unsaid, or little room for misunderstanding. I’m learning that there is a time and place to voice one’s opinion.
Active Listening can be embraced as a strategy to deal with conflict both in and out of the classroom. That said, most people can see right through someone who is not genuine, so when employing this technique one must truly embrace and appreciate the theory.
We must avoid the tendency to try and change people by forcing them to see things our way, and believe what we believe. Advice is seldom taken!
“When people are listened to they tend to listen to themselves with more care and to make clear exactly what they are thinking and feeling” (Rogers & Farson, 1957). Sometimes the best way to get someone to change is simply by letting them express their feelings while we listen with empathy and understanding.
“Listening brings about changes in people’s attitudes towards themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and and personal philosophy. People who have been listened to in this new and special way become more emotionally mature, more open to experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian” (Rogers & Farson, 1957).
Wow! There is a lot more power behind Active Listening than I’d ever previously considered.
As an educator it is important to realize that students who have a chance to talk about their learning tend to develop a deeper understanding of the topics being taught. Knowing this, I will allow more time for class and peer discussions regarding concepts being taught. I may even ask the students to teach the class about something they have learned.
“Group members tend to listen more to each other, to become less argumentative, more ready to incorporate other points of view” (Rogers & Farson, 1957). Therefore, when assigning group work, I will explain the concept of Active Listening and encourage all group members to employ this strategy.
Going forward, I will make a better effort to listen for total meaning in my roles as a communicator, wife, mother, friend and instructor. I will embrace listening as an active, as opposed to passive, approach to conflict resolution.
Not only will I do my best to listen to the content and words being spoken, but I will also pay attention to the emotion, feelings and attitudes underneath the content – and do my best to convey that understanding back to the person I am actively listening to.
Seitel, Fraser P. The Practice of Public Relations. 12th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print.
Rogers, Carl, and Richard E. Farson. “Active Listening.” Gordon Training International Active Listening Comments. Gordon Training International, 1957. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <http://www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/active-listening/>