Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Communication: Active Listening

(This article is also available in PDF at the bottom of this page.)

Active listening is an essential technique that successful and well-adapted people demonstrate.  It’s simple to apply, but difficult to master.  Without this skill you cannot be effective in your communication, influence, problem-solving, job performance or even relationships (professional and personal), regardless of your position, rank or status.

The listener is actively engaged in paying attention to the speaker’s words in addition to behaviors, emotions, and body language, while preparing to repeat back what was said using the speaker’s own words and intentions. 

80% of communication is non-verbal.  In the process of preparing to repeat back what was said by using the speaker’s own words and intentions, the active listener is challenged to keep mentally present and suspend judgment, premature argument, and bias.  The listener can only ask clarifying questions.

Applying this technique does not imply agreement with the speaker.  It’s easy to witness the lack of demonstrating this skill by a passive listener, which frequently leads to misunderstanding or conflict.  A passive listener might paraphrase back in his/her own words, which becomes the listener’s bias.  The listener’s personality style is trying to apply meaning, which might not express what the speaker intended and shows that the listener is not fully attentive.  The passive listener might also be mentally preparing to “ambush” the speaker by listening to weaknesses of the statements in order to attack the speaker’s position, or support the listener’s perspective.

The impact of active listening demonstrates respect, empathy, common ground of language and understanding without assumptions.  It also enhances comprehension and retention.  High performing people engage this technique to be more significantly more effective and influential.

Active listening is a simple technique, yet incredible difficult to master because your own style gets in the way, or pressure to respond, or perform can cause you to push and negatively impact your ability to be mentally present.  Here are a few tips:

1)    Be mentally present and clear-headed (Reference the article “Mind-the-Gap”);
2)    Recognize your own style to not let distorting filters drive or blind you;
3)    Observe body language, words, styles, and emotions to capture intention;
4)    Repeat back what you heard using the speaker’s own words.  This is also called “reflective listening.” Followed by:
Is what I said what you meant?
5)    Ask open-ended or clarifying questions, such as:
What is the best way you would like me to respond?”
My impression is that you are frustrated, is that accurate?” or “Are you angry?”
“Is it accurate that….”
How can I support you?”
“What if the opposite were true?”

“Describe for me…”

- (c) Ken Sergi.  Do not post or publish without permission. It's ok to link.

Click here for a PDF version of this article.
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