The most important gift you can give another person is your whole attention. Active listening has a number of components but the most important is to Be Present. It requires commitment and practice.
When you are really giving another your attention, you are tuned to their body language, their tone, their words and what is between the words. You are really seeking to understand and hear. You are not judging. You are not analysing. You are not getting emotionally worked up about what is being said to you. You are not running your own internal thought commentary on what is being said. You are not noting the location of the neckline on her dress or the way he keeps his fingernails. You are not scanning the room for someone more important to speak with next.
No! You are not doing those things. You are interacting naturally and seriously tuning to the conversation and absolutely nothing else. There are some other aspects to active listening for sure but the most important, the critical element is your willingness to be totally attentive to that person.
It is an incredible thing to have someone pay this courtesy and care to another and very empowering for both parties. It is not necessary to solve their problems or do anything beyond empathising. When you actually listen to a staff member without critical expression or distraction, you may find that there is something there of great value or that gives you some unique insight.
And why not try this at home too. When you listen to the teenager or your partner without falling into The Usual Patterns of response (you will know the ones I mean), you really just listen to them. Stop working on the computer. Stop watching the television. Stop turning the chops. These moments of listening opportunity will almost always not be the most convenient. Wait for them and then, pay attention – listen. Hear the story from their perspective and suspend judgement. If you don’t understand something, without adopting attitude, ask for more information. See what happens… You will find that these true listening conversations always have a gift for you.