What an Active Listener Does & Doesn’t Do

When we need to talk with someone we trust about a situation that is beyond our control, we need someone who will engage with us in active listening mode. First I’ll review what I mean by a situation beyond our control and then I’ll explain a little more about active listening.

In a previous post titled, 3 Different Challenges and the Types of Responses Needed, I defined “situations beyond our control” like this:

This can include anything from a major crisis (like the loss of a loved one) to an everyday emotional blow (like getting overlooked for something we really wanted to do). When things happen that we cannot control, oftentimes our emotions are high. Because we may not even know what all we’re feeling or why we’re feeling it, it is not a time for decisions.

Now, I’d like to spend some time talking about the “active listening” that often helps in these situations. Since we may sometimes be the listener and sometimes be the speaker, I am going to write about both listener and speaker in the third person.

What is an Active Listener?

As the term “active” implies, the active listener is engaged deeply in listening to the speaker. A completely passive observer is not nearly as helpful as an active listener.

In addition to the Essential Traits of a Trustworthy Friend I posted previously, here are some important observations about what an active listener does and doesn’t do:

  1. An active listener asks clarifying questions when something is unclear. This can help the listener understand the speaker better, but can also help the speaker process the thoughts and emotions involved.
  2. An active listener takes care to key into important details about what the speaker is sharing. This requires a high level of attention to the speaker.
  3. An active listener observes verbal and non-verbal cues beyond the words used to more accurately interpret what is being expressed. Observing the speaker’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can all help the listener understand the speaker.
  4. An active listener shows empathy and concern but does not have to adopt the speaker’s emotions about the situation. Simply acknowledging and helping to name the speaker’s emotions can help the speaker process the situation.
  5. An active listener avoids solving the problem for the speaker. The active listener does not try to “fix” the situation or the speaker, but gives the speaker the room to thoroughly process the situation at the speaker’s own pace.
  6. An active listener avoids judging the speaker for negative or extreme emotions expressed. The listener recognizes the extremes as part of the speaker’s way of processing or coming to terms with the situation.

As you can see “active listening” is a more than just sitting idly while someone rambles about a problem. Rather active listening is a dynamic process that can help when situations are out of control.

Note: much of what I have learned about “active listening” has come from my training as a Stephen Leader by Stephen Ministries of St. Louis.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like these other posts about “How Christian Community Helps us Face Challenges.” (Please click the titles below to go to the posts.)

4 Simple Reasons Talking About Hard Stuff Can Enhance Your Life

Essential Traits of a Trustworthy Friend

3 Different Challenges and the Types of Responses Needed

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sandy Bricker on November 18, 2013 at 5:38 am

    Great food for thought, Jennifer, as so many need good listeners in their lives.

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