What AA Taught Me About Active Listening & 7 Ways to Improve YoursApr 20, 2022
They would walk into my home with great trepidation and clammy hands. They were here for their 5th Step with me, their AA sponsor.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there are 12 steps you go through continuously as a way of evolving your sobriety and your spiritual connection to a Higher Power to arrest drinking alcohol and transform your life.
Because of my own earnest step work, in just a few years, I had become a highly sought after “sponsor” - that is someone who works with another sober member of AA to guide them through their recovery, to answer their questions about life in sobriety, and guide them through the 12 Steps.
We Must Resist Our Own Spin
What I know for sure is that In order for us to be truly honest with ourselves, we cannot have the input of someone else's agenda and story. This is where I began the art of active listening.
I was taught by my sponsors to listen and guide. Do not tell them what to do or how to be, but instead hold space for them to emerge their own truth. Without fail, their essence, and a vision of a life without alcohol would grow, as would their self-awareness, and they would come to their own conclusions.
I Had Honed My Intuitive Gift
Through these years of listening and guiding women tell their tales of despair and regret, and find hope and transform their lives in AA, I honed my intuitive gift of “seeing”.
For many years I didn’t realize I was picking up the thoughts and feelings of others and ‘downloading’ insights from the Divine through the practice of active listening!
As a business leader now, one of the challenges I have with being an intuitive empath is managing my mind. Maybe you have experienced this?
As I listen to another person, I get ‘hits’ of insight. Insight is defined as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing".
However, instead of interrupting the speaker to share with them these insights I just received, I have a discipline I use to keep myself from getting lost in my own thoughts or thinking about the insight and how I've got to tell them - NOW!
I must resist, come back to the present moment, and tune into what they are sharing - I consciously choose to hear and affirm them to keep the flow of insights for them running.
We Don't Tell You Who to Be, We Show the World Who You Are
All any of us want is to feel understood. In order to feel understood, we must also learn to understand others.
As a business owner, active listening creates inroads with my team, and is paramount in bringing my clients through to their authentic brand story for their company.
Whether emerging a brand or bringing out the best in my team, active listening is as critical as it is in guiding someone through to the other side of transformation to escape the perils of alcoholism.
“The need for connectivity and belonging is fundamental in humans. (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).” Positive Psychology, March 29, 2022
We all want to be liked, even if we won’t admit it. But we are social beings who need connection with others. We can all see the fallout the pandemic lockdowns had on the mental wellness of the world’s population.
Of course this makes sense that we need these connections to create, build, and thrive this life.
Are you even listening to me?
Do you often wish you could find someone who would just listen to what you have to say? Really listen to you? Really truly understand your business, see your vision?
This is where the skill of active listening comes in to curb our judgment, to stop our magic magnifying mind’s chatter, and be of service to another. We can meet them where they are without trying to fix it or suggest or boldly offer our opinion.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been listened to like this before!! No one has ever paid me this much attention!” exclaimed my client after her first Soul Story Brand interview.
No one feels safe pouring their heart out to someone who isn’t paying attention. Or if we see ‘that look’ on their face that we construe as judgment. Nope! There will not be any divulging of real fears or feelings about our life or business.
We must keep ourselves from jumping to conclusions, and making assumptions about the other that is untrue and dishonoring to them. Instead, we curiously contemplate with compassion, what is going on with them which gives the other person the feeling of safety they need to be vulnerable.
When you show you are willing to listen to others, really listen to them, it becomes a dance of connection that allows for us the listener to hear our own truth, and the space for theirs to emerge - organically and easily.
Truth emerges from the depths of a safe environment and deep desire to share.
In this article, we will look at what active listening is, what the benefits are, and how we can all learn to be more engaged, present and mindful listeners.
What is Active Listening?
American psychologists, Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson, were the first to discover Active Listening as an effective counseling technique that anyone could use to improve their life and their relationships.
What they found is that when one approaches communication with another there are three components that insure success:
- Unconditional positive regard
Empathy is the act of putting yourself in the other person's shoes, to respond with meaningful comments that allow them to feel safe and heard, without judgment.
Being real with yourself and others is being genuine.
And simple respect for another's views will create solid connection.
Active listening, with these 3 components, is the basis for the art of facilitation in the workplace, where leaders encourage conversation to better understand where someone is coming from, rather than the hierarchical outdated approach to just telling, measuring performance, and disciplining.
Listening to What is Left Un-said
Conscious, active listening is not a skill we are taught. Being a leader in the age of conscious business requires learning a new approach - like active listening. We become more effective at managing our teams, and build stronger relationships with our clients who become more loyal.
Being mindful, being present, is what launches us to success like we’ve never experienced before. It's the way of the world now. Listening to others, sharing, collaborating, and listening some more.
Distilled: Listen to the person who is talking. It’s that simple. Really listen and hear what they are saying. Even better, cultivate the art of listening to what is left unsaid.
Examples of Active Listening
"Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development." - Rogers & Farson
For me growing up, being an active listener was never going to develop.
In the patriarchal and demanding environment I lived in, the way of discipline was not conducive to being mindful or actively listening - it was about commanding and enforcing.
“Look me in the eyes when I'm talking to you and do what I say.”
Instead, if my father had had the capacity to simply sit down with me and ask a compassionate question like, ‘What’s going on?” there would have been inroads made to building trust and fostering healthy development.
Now we have a work situation between Jenn, the marketing director of a mid-sized company, & Chris, her top strategist on her team.
Chris walked into Jenn’s office with a problem he figured she could solve. Jenn, who was focused on an important project with a deadline, barely looked up as Chris began talking about his frustration.
Jenn knew he could solve it if he would be less dependent and more earnest at problem-solving, so she snapped at him and said,
“I’m sure you will figure it out. I need to get back to this! I have a deadline!"
Of course Chris felt dismissed and diminished. An argument ensued, wasting time and energy.
Jenn was barely paying attention as Chris shared about his problem. Then, she never even affirmed his feelings or empathically responded. Instead, she demanded he figure it out himself, dismissing him to stew. Of course he rebelled.
If only Jenn had practiced active listening, it could have gone like this...
How could this have gone better?
Jenn looks up from her time-sensitive project as Chris walks into her office with his apparent frustration.
He begins with a round-a-bout explanation about how he can’t solve this problem. Jenn allows Chris to express himself about his issue while she actively listens. She discovers he didn’t have some information that would free him to work through this on his own.
“Chris, I hear you saying …she repeats the essence of what she heard…
Is this correct?”
“Yes, that’s right and I don't have photos for the piece and the stock video that's in the folder is outdated."
In that moment of listening to Chris, she realized he didn't have the correct link to the folder with the updated media assets!
Jenn responds with the solution, and Chris happily and confidently moves on to tackle the project.
That’s it. Ten minutes, everyone is happy, productive, and yes, Jenn was interrupted, but that is her job - to set up and lead her team to success.
Chris feels affirmed. He feels like his emotions were validated; that he was seen and heard. And that feels good.
Let’s look at 3 ways approach any interaction where active listening is required. (um...everywhere 😉)
3 Ways to Prepare Yourself as an Active Listener
Before any conversation, meditate and do breath-work. Take six deep breaths, set an intention for the conversation, and remind yourself that your job is to pay attention and listen - to stay conscious and attuned in the present moment.
When someone you are in conversation pauses, you pause too. Wait a moment when they finish without rushing into what you want to say.
This is a tough one for me! But I’ve learned to type what the other is saying when I can. This way, insights that come to me are recorded and I can share them if and when appropriate.
Before I respond with my own ideas, my opinions, my guidance, I offer my support if the situation calls for it.
Now let’s take a deeper dive into seven disciplines to work with…
7 Valuable Disciplines to Become a Better Active Listener
When encountering an important conversation with someone, we first must set a safe environment where there will be little to no disruption.
Have the conversation when all parties are calm - not upset.
1. Be attentive.
Know when to encourage them. Let the person know that you see them. You hear them. When you’re actively listening to another, use your senses to engage. Make eye contact, as this indicates that you’re genuinely interested.
These actions show the other person that you are being a conscious, active listener and are not preoccupied with your thoughts or what you’re going to say next.
Be compassionate and supportive in emotional conversations with others. Nodding your head, giving an affirming smile, and leaning in slightly if you feel led to, go a long way without saying a word.
Encourage them to keep going:
- “I hear you."
- "Go on."
- "I understand how you’re feeling."
- "Thank you for sharing that with me.”
2. Ask open-ended questions.
Start a conversation, or keep one going with open-ended questions that allow for a longer answer than just, 'Yes" or "No."
- "Could you say more about that?”
- "Why do you think they reacted like that?"
Both of these questions allow the person to describe their thoughts in more detail.
3. Ask probing questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions that help the other person explore their feelings.
Follow up questions can open the door for another to explore their feelings more deeply.
It guides them to go within to seek answers for themselves. This is always the best conclusion for someone as it comes from their soul. And our soul never lies to us.
4. Request clarification.
The best active listeners seek to understand where the other person is coming from. If there is something the other person shared with you that didn't make sense, or is sticking out to you, wait for a chance to ask them more about it.
This shows them that you are genuine in wanting to understand and get it all straight.
"You said you felt overwhelmed with your service offerings. Can you tell me why you feel that way?"
"What did you mean when you said you don’t feel appreciated?”
Paraphrasing is a way to explain a concept back to someone in a different way that exhibits that you understand them.
When they say, "It's infuriating that people argue about my prices when they can see how much it takes to provide this service!”
You can say, "So, Amanda, you are angry that all you’ve worked for isn’t bringing in the revenue you need and feel you are worth?”
6. Be attuned to and reflect feelings.
Stay conscious! Don’t smile when they are obviously sad or angry. If they are talking about something difficult, lean in and show empathy.
Give a smile of encouragement if they look like they need one. Show disapproval if they describe someone who was disrespectful. You could even say something like,
"I know this isn't easy for you to share, but it’s okay to feel angry right now.”
"I'm sorry you had to go through this.”
Many times we just need to vent. But an excellent final step in exhibiting your active listening skills and showing you truly understand, is to recap what they have told you.
"What I'm hearing is that this really hurt your feelings when I dismissed you in front of our team. You feel that I was not being supportive, and you would like me to acknowledge this."
In Summary: The Benefits of Active Listening
For The Speaker
- Brings about self-awareness of basic values & personal beliefs
- It fosters emotional intelligence
- People become less judgemental about their experiences
- They become more compassionate and less defensive
For The Active Listener
- Ensures that you fully understand the problem or issue
- Helps you build trust and deepen relationships
- Opens you to different perspectives - hones your intuition
- Can help you resolve conflicts of personal and professional matters
Our Inner Human Yearning To Be Seen
All most of us want is to feel seen, heard and understood in a genuine, heartfelt way. Having healthy, balanced conversations are most important now to us as leaders and as a human race.
When we step into and commit to becoming a more conscious and active listener, we become better leaders. We are saying to others, by our actions, that they matter - that what they feel and how they approach things is important.
We learn to hold a safe space for them to bring painful thoughts and feelings into the light of day to be observed and transmuted. And in this, our own self-awareness grows.
As AA taught me many moons ago, as I grow in active listening, I am better able to put my head on the pillow at night knowing I have done my best in bringing Light to this wild and wonderful world that is growing and evolving in consciousness every day.
A Note of Full Transparency: I am deeply grateful for my wonderful team, comrades, and coaches who have endured my oftentimes ungraceful way of non-active listening. I thank you all for making me step into being a better active listener & more impactful leader. I love you all. 🙏
Soul Story Creative, where we don't tell you who to be - we show the world who you are. Are you & company ready to be seen? Go ahead and Schedule a Call.
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