Being a Better Ally; 4 Tips on Active Listening
Active listening is an incredible skill we can use in our daily life to have better
interactions with people whom we don’t share common experiences with. We can
use it to be better allies to the groups that we do not identify with or belong to.
Ireland is a very diverse place and is becoming more and more diverse each
Whether you are an Irish traveller or a POC, an LGBTI+ individual, have an
immigrant background, or perhaps even the intersectionality of some of these
identities, we all have our differences. Despite the differences, one thing we share
for sure is the fact that we are all living in this country creating a diverse population.
Diversity is cool but what about inclusion? That comes with belonging I suppose. You
might ask how can we create belonging? There are so many ways depending on
the context but regardless of the obstacles and the challenges of understanding
someone from another perspective or background, yet I still believe, it can be achieved by active listening. It could start with robot-like responses and unnatural reactions. This could be due to different communication styles or not sharing similar experiences. However, this shouldn’t necessarily stop us from communicating or trying. Thankfully just like
any habit, if you practice active listening enough it can be a mundane thing where
at some point you won’t even realise that you’re doing it!
Today I would like to give you 4 tips on active listening so that we can
become better allies, enhance visibility, have better communication and boost
belonging. To start with the basics, we need to listen, not just hear. This comes with
creating a non-judgmental safe space. We shouldn’t let people feel like they’re
being judged. This can hinder people from speaking and opening up.
Validate feelings and Acknowledge them for speaking
Appreciate the speaker for their courage and honesty. It takes guts to talk about one’s experience. Always acknowledge their feelings and emotions. Do not disregard or disapprove of their truth. If they open up to us, that already shows we are on the right track! Keep your two cents to yourself unless it’s asked We should give them a safe space where they can talk about their experiences and thoughts and emotions without any judgement and this is one of the baselines of active listening. We should not justify oppressors’ behaviour. Not giving unnecessary advice is key to achieving active listening. Telling them how to react is another no-no!
Read the Room, Do not Cut off.
Never cut off people and always let them speak, do not forget it’s not about
us, it’s about them, they should be taking up space. Read the room and use
appropriate body language. Being cut off in mid-sentence would make people feel
like their thoughts are not being appreciated. Imagine sharing something very
meaningful and the person in front of you cuts you off and gives you their unasked
opinion. It wouldn't be a pleasant conversation to have and it would discourage you
from speaking. We do not want this! We want to be heard and to be seen and
Reflect and Summarise
Do paraphrase and ask questions if something is not clear for you. There is
nothing wrong with asking questions. This also shows that you are interested in their
story. Then summarise to make sure that people who open up to you are aware that
you listened to them. This also helps clear out any misunderstandings. Of course, communication is a two-way process, both parties should be involved and willing to communicate. We cannot and should not force someone to participate in it. However, If we go and use these tools in our daily life, this can be a start to clearing out misunderstandings. It would also create a space where people feel like they are heard and seen.