“Active Listening” is a widely used technique in counselling, inter-faith dialogue, and conflict resolution. It focuses on what the other communicant is saying rather than how you want to respond. It takes some practice, but has excellent outcomes in enriching communication.
Listen, don’t just hear, and be sure to give the speaker positive reinforcement without too many verbal intrusions such as “yes,” and “I see.” This is better done non-verbally, through nods, smile (where appropriate), and posture. Eye contact is also important. It not only allows you to see the non-verbal cues of the speaker, but it gives them a sense of being followed and understood.
Your posture as already mentioned, is an important conveyer of meaning. An active listener tends to lean slightly forward. While a distracted or bored listener may shift positions or pull away from the speaker. An inattentive listener may also “clock watch” or fidget with a pen or other convenient object. So, keep in mind the messages you are sending.
Again, the goal is to actively take-in what is being communicated. Periodically you may want to ask some questions of clarification. These shouldn’t be too frequent, and ideally should not be attempts to direct the conversation. You may also want to use some reflection and summary of what has been said. For example, “so you are saying . . . .” This allows the speaker a chance to correct any misapprehensions, and reassures them that you are on the same general wavelength.
It is really useful in these exchanges to remember and feedback some exact points the speaker has made. It shows that you have understood, and that their message was important to you.
Summarising what the speaker has said is also a good technique, before moving any dialogue along. By restating the main points of the message and reiterating them gives the speaker chance to reflect on what has been said, and if needed to correct the received message.