Active listening is a fundamental skill applied in so many aspects of nonviolent community safety, which, when sensitively used, is one of the most powerful and useful tools we have for peace.
Active listening is a tool and only a tool: Just as the ability to use a hammer does not make a carpenter neither does the ability to actively listen make a counsellor. The skill of the trade comes with the appropriate application of the tool.
Active listening is more than hearing: It involves processing what has been heard and skilfully selecting a response.
At its most basic, active listening serves to encourage the person to tell more and most importantly, communicates to the person that you are interested and listening.
Self awareness will alert you to your own attitudes and biases, so that you resist imposing these on other people. Your own attitudes can intrude on the listening process and it is important that this does not happen.
Attitudes that contribute to active listening
You need to be aware of your own beliefs, needs, biases and limitations.
Basic to the quality of your communication are the beliefs and attitudes you bring, attitudes you hold in relation to others, and to yourself.
You want to listen and are interested in the person.
People quickly sense when your response is not genuine. ‘Phoney sincerity’ does not work: your tone of voice will convey your sincerity. If you are patient and not anxious to put in your ‘two cents’ worth, and show that you remember what the person is saying (“So you’ve been married to Mary for 7 years now”), your interest can be demonstrated and conveyed.
You respect the person’s individuality and right of self-determination.
This means that every person has a right to make his/her own decisions and choices even if you disagree or disapprove. It is inappropriate for us to try to convince others that we are right and they are wrong. Preaching and patronising attitudes are not the domain of peacekeepers.
You avoid labelling and dismissing the person or their feelings
“It’s not really such a big problem”, is not helpful to the person with a problem. Minimising others feelings “It’ll be alright, don’t worry, don’t feel so bad”, is usually an expression of your own discomfort with those feelings, rather than a helpful response for them.
“I understand how you feel”, is one of the most aggravating phrases and invites the aggressive retort “You DON’T KNOW how I feel!”!
You are able to tolerate less than perfect outcomes
You need to be able to tolerate differences of outlook, and a person’s unwillingness to change his/her situation. Sometimes you will need to accept that the person has unresolved issues and feelings even when they leave. Often all we can do is allow people to experience and better understand their feelings. You cannot make the feelings go away. People will only tackle difficult situations when they feel ready to risk experiencing the stress of change.
Some people are dealing with a myriad of problems and it is inappropriate to try to consider them all. Focusing on one issue may help. Other people may be too distressed to do this and may not be at a point where we can listen to them or support them effectively.
- Active listening
- Cultural understanding
- Group skills
- Movements_Campaigns - Peace
- Peer coaching
- Safety education