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Effective listening skills are just that, skills which can be learned as one learns to ride a bike or play the piano. Good communication calls for more than simply hearing with your ears. It involves communicating to the talker that s/he is really HEARD. Every person wants and needs to have the feeling that when s/he has spoken, the listener understands. Relationships can be enhanced greatly by learning this essential skill.

To be an effective listener, one needs to communicate non-verbally that one is fully present and attentive. Much of this can be done by behaviors such as making frequent eye contact, very slightly leaning forward towards the speaker, not having anything else in the environment distract the listener. No television, no newspapers, no looking around, rather, simply and consistently attend to the speaker, communicating that what s/he is saying is vitally important to you.

Next, think of yourself as a mirror. Your task as listener is to reflect back to the speaker that you have heard and understand what has been said.
To do this, use a paraphrase approach and reflect back to the speaker what was said. Helpful here are phrases such as, "What I think I heard you saying is....". Then rephrase what you think you heard. After you, the listener has spoken, ask the speaker, "Did I hear you correctly?" or "Do you feel that I understood what you said?". Keep repeating this pattern until the person talking says to you that s/he does indeed feel heard.

Remove from yourself the desire to "fix", to "solve the problem" or to give advice. This is probably the biggest error made in listening. Do NOT give advice. Seldom does anyone truly desire to have you tell her/him how to fix the issue being addressed. Human beings are much more interested in feeling they are heard than they are in receiving advice. People have within them their own answers. When you as listener try to tell someone else what to do, the result is that the one speaking feels shut down, not affirmed and not heard.

Try as listener to get people to communicate to you their feelings. Affirm their right to have these feelings, no matter what they are. Feelings are not good or bad, not right or wrong...feelings just are. People desire to be able to express their feelings to another with no fear of being judged for them. You can ask "How does that make you feel?". Or, you can make your best guess as to what the feelings seem to be and say something like, "It seems you are really feeling angry." Then allow the talker to tell you whether you are correctly hearing the emotion s/he is feeling.

Remember that effective communication is a key to healthy relationships and the best way to enhance your marriage, your business relationships, your friendships is to be an active, reflective listener. Rely on the tactic of mirroring, telling yourself, "All that is required of me as I listen is to be attentive, to reflect back what was said, and to affirm this person's right to speak and to feel."

Remember that the skill of good, active listening takes time to learn. Keep practicing it, for it is worth it in the improvement you will see in your communication with others in all kinds of relationships.