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Communication is a two-way street – a helpful guide to active listening.

An interesting communications fact – people generally only remember between 25 and 50 per cent of what they see and hear, according to American Educator Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience.

During my studies, I found this concept incredibly interesting; after all, the amount of information we are exposed to in a single day is phenomenal. One solution put forward to assist in the retention of more messages was ‘Active Listening’.

Since discovering ‘Active Listening’ I’ve been conscious to apply it throughout my professional life and my personal life.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a technique which requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said; with the listener actively placing themselves in the position of the speaker, to see their perspective.

Importantly, if you’re already preparing a response in your head before what is being said is finished (something we’ve all done), you’re not actively listening, and you may miss crucial information to fully-inform your response.

Without emotion, the meaning of the message is lost.

Content + emotion = meaning is a simple formula to demonstrate how we construct messages.

Part of active listening is understanding and acknowledging the emotions of the speaker and responding accordingly to ensure the speaker feels heard and understood.

In order to be better active listeners, we need to be more open and accepting of different thoughts and opinions, even if they do challenge part of our self-identity.

There can be no effective communication in a threatening environment.

We create excuses or irrational reasoning to keep the mental pictures we create of ourselves intact, whether they are realistic or not. This is what makes active listening beneficial, as it presents itself as a non-threatening opportunity to explore outcomes and new possibilities. In this environment the speaker can decide if they are willing to accept the change and there is no judgement or pressure aimed at changing their mind.

Avoiding assumptions is key to being a good active listener.

We often make assumptions based on our own personal beliefs and experiences and can easily miss the intended meaning behind the message. By being aware of your personal assumptions and participating in conversations with an open mind you avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Top tips to becoming a better active listener:

  • Build trust and establish rapport

  • Be attentive

  • Demonstrate concern (verbal and non-verbal cues)

  • Wait to disclose opinions (positive or negative)

  • Accept speaker’s difference of opinion

  • Ask specific questions to seek clarification

  • Paraphrase to show your understanding

Active listening is a beneficial skill to have in our everyday communications toolkit and is incredibly powerful in organisational communication. Now you can really listen!