What is involved in active listening?
Active listening is something that you can do right now that is really effective. You can practice this the next time you are talking with a parent, no matter the subject. You may be wondering what active listening looks like. Here are some things to remember when using active listening.
- Approach the discussion with a goal to learn something
- Focus closely on the speaker
- Stop talking
- Listen for specific details
- Ask open-ended questions (But don’t interrupt!)
- Listen to obtain a total meaning of the dialogue (Much can be said without speaking a word.)
- Pay close attention to how you respond
When you are actively listening, approach the discussion with a goal to learn something. For example, you are going to talk to Mrs. Williams. You know that you want to learn about XYZ. But when you are doing that, you need to make sure that you are focusing closely on the speaker. Do not think about your grocery list and what is on sale at Target. Now it is time to focus closely on that speaker.
Stop talking. Just stop talking for a second and do not interrupt. Simply listen to what that parent is saying and absorb what they are saying. Listen for specific details. Ask open-ended questions. Remember, do not interrupt even though you might feel tempted to. Right now, you are just listening. You want to obtain a total meaning of the dialogue. A lot can be said without speaking a word. Also, pay close attention to how you respond.
Why is it important to use active listening? Parents love when you ask them about their child and when you listen to them when they are talking about their child and their own experiences. Parents might feel alone after diagnosis. Talking and asking them how they are can bring them comfort. It can help you get the information you need for planning purposes, assessments, et cetera.
You can use that information to create goals for the family and provide linkages to community resources. For example, if a parent tells you about needing something for their child or experiencing the family and friends flight, you can refer them to community support groups, community assistance, or whatever the parent may be needing. You can also actively listen to better understand the family routines, structure, and strengths.
Other reasons to actively listen are to build rapport with that person and demonstrate respect. Active listening allows for paraphrasing what the parent is saying and providing verbal affirmations which shows that you understand and are listening. Some examples include, it sounds like what you are saying is…, what I hear you saying is…, I understand, or okay, I’ve got it. One parent said, “When people listen to me, it makes me feel like they care.” Of course, we do. That is why we take the time to ask questions and then actively listen.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Perspective-Taking: Understanding Challenges, Fears and Joys of Parents of Children with Special Needs, presented by Christy Jones-Hudson, MA, IMH-E®.