5 Ways to be an active listener

Older mother and daughter having a meaningful conversation while standing in the kitchen enjoying coffee.

Research shows that social isolation takes a toll on our mental health, well-being and quality of life, especially as we age. Thanks to advancements in technology, we are able to stay connected with loved ones through to texting, social media and video-chats. While that type of connection is important, in-person connections are still vital for older adults.

A key to that in-person connection is active listening. Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another individual that improves mutual understanding.

Tips for becoming a better, more active listener:

We all have our own communication style. Our life experiences impact the way that we listen and communicate. Events in our day-to-day life can affect our conversations throughout the day and it’s important to remember this when conversing with others.

Be patient
Don’t jump right into the potential problem. If the person is grieving or struggling, they may not want to discuss that right away. Start with a simple opening question, such as “How’s your day been?” Let them lead the conversation. They’ll discuss what’s on their mind at their pace.

Respond with understanding
In conversations, we tend to try and think of what we will say next, rather than active listening. To better understand someone’s story from their perspective, restate what you heard. For example, “It sounds like you are missing home right now.”

Don’t fix the problem
Don’t try to be Mr. or Ms. Fix It. You’re not there to teach or give advice. Listen to what they are saying and let them feel how they are feeling. Ask open-ended questions to give them the opportunity to choose how to respond.

Be nonjudgmental
It’s easier to open up to discuss your experiences, thoughts and feelings when you know you won’t be judged. Create a safe space for them to open up to you.

The core principles of active listening:

  • Physical attention
    • Make eye contact
    • Don’t be distracted while you are listening
    • Use open, non-threating body language to let them know you are there for them.
  • Paraphrasing
    • Show you are listening attentively
    • Restate basic ideas and facts
    • Repeat what you heard by saying things like, “So this is what happened?"
  • Reflecting
    • Show that you understand how the person feels
    • Help the person evaluate how they are feeling
    • Repeat what you think the speaker is feeling by saying things like, “It sounds like you feel sad.”
  • Clarifying
    • Get more information
    • Ask open-ended questions, as opposed to yes/no questions to get more information
    • Use a positive tone of voice that conveys interest Focus on active listening while visiting with older adults.

It will lead to more fulfilling and beneficial conversations for both of you.

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