There is so much to say about active listening, on how the other guy knows we are truly listening. I will need several entries on this topic.
Active listening starts with your total attention focused on the other person.
If at all possible sit directly in front of him. Be close enough that you do not miss his non-verbal expressions. The good news is that he will also be able to read yours. What he sees in your body language allows you to communicate a lot with having to take up “air time.” Speaking focuses attention on you and away from him which is terrible. You are here for him!
Also, sit where you cannot be distracted by a TV or other activity in the area. He can feel it each time glance away. He makes him think you have lost interest in what he is saying. Or are disapproving of what he just communicated. Do not look at your watch or have it propped up in front of you. It means that your focus on him is not complete.
Keep other thoughts out of your mind. Especially on how you will respond to what he just said. That little pause when you switch speakers is long enough to do that. Also, the next words out of his mouth often change what you were planning to say. Maybe even reversing it.
Active listening involves your ears and brain.
Process everything he says. Do not it go in one ear and out the other. Keep asking yourself questions about what he just said. For example: Why did it he express it that way? What is the real meaning of that figure of speech?
In time he will become more direct with his statements. When he is hinting around, you know there is something more profound involved.
Active listening sometimes involves “non-words” on your part.
You can show that you are following what he is saying with little noises like “um,” “ah”, “oh,” “wow,” etc. Now be sure it fits what he just said. Do not say “ah” or “wow” when he in tears says his companion dog just got killed by a speeding truck. At that point, you want to hug him and cry with him.
Make sure you are not interrupting his train of thought.
Active listening involves your facial expressions.
For most of these come naturally. Do not force or suppress such expressions. Smiles and frowns communicate a lot. They must match what he just said. Remember you are here to show brotherly love and acceptance. Do not let your face convey hate or rejection. If there is some problem, you want to seek loving restoration.
Your face can signal that you have a question. Be careful with this one.
Active listening involves other non-verbal communication.
What you do with your hands can say a lot. For example, both hands behind your neck can indicate rejection. Bringing your hands towards your body is a signal for him to say more on this topic. Pointing your feet away from him and towards the door would mean you are ready to leave this meeting. These are just a few; there are many others.
Active listening may involve asking some gentle questions.
These rare gentle questions are excellent. For example, if your friend just mentioned his grandmother, you might ask on which side of the family. This question shows that you want to get the story straight.
These short little concrete questions requiring a one or two-word answer are excellent. Avoid anything complicated that may get your friend off his current train of thought.