Anyone remember active listening? I recall hearing much about it when I raised my three sons. Parenting books encouraged it. Marriage manuals advised couples to use it. Thankfully, it's still in use today.
It's worth recalling some of the tips to active listening—especially in a day and age when the number of distractions in our lives has escalated to a nearly deadening and frightening level. And let's not even get into the topic of the incivility of talk shows where talking seems to be a competitive sport.
The first thing you have to do is to stop talking. I find it helpful to remember that I have one mouth and two ears; the ratio gives me a clue as to what's important.
It's equally important to signal to the other person that you truly are interested in what she says. Put down your iPhone for a few minutes. Resist the temptation to glance down at the newspaper or book you were reading. Good eye contact, nodding your head, facial expressions—all of these non-verbals are important in flagging to the other person that you want to hear what he says.
Ask questions and find ways to show you empathize (which is different from sympathizing) with the other person. Ask questions for clarity. Play back to your friend, child or partner what you have heard him say to be sure you've understood. Listen to the response to be sure you've correctly interpreted the message she was sending you.
And, though this isn't part of active listening as I originally learned it, I would add one more piece: Resist giving advice. I generally think advice is worth exactly what you pay for it (typically nothing). When someone wants your advice, they'll ask for that. Mostly, people just want to be heard and validated. What a gift that is to give each other.