Active listening is a term with which most are familiar. It means constructively engaging in the act of interpretation while capturing the information being presented. In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey points out that most often we do not listen with the intention of understanding; instead we listen with a focus on replying.
Dr. Covey says that when another person speaks, we’re usually “listening” at one of four levels.
1) We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all.
2) We may practice pretending. “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”
3) We may be practicing selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. We often do this when we’re listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child.
4) We may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing on the words that are being said.
But very few of us regularly practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening: “empathic listening.”
Practicing empathic listening requires silencing our own inner thought processes and absorbing the information being presented. The results of this type of listening can be profound in a number of ways, including our growth and improving relationships. The reason is that this type of listening assists our understanding of other people’s viewpoints.