The Importance of Listening – Are you an ‘Active Listener’?

Like most working professionals I go through my working day with a series of meetings, conference calls and 1-to-1 discussions with individuals and teams alike, but recently I reflected on the question ‘Am I truly actively listening to all of these people?’  Of course my initial reaction is ‘Yes I am actively listening to all them!’….but then on further examination from my side of what it means to truly actively listen to someone, followed by some honest self-reflection I learned a lot more of what this really means.  

Have you noticed yourself in meetings waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can get your point across? Have you found yourself distracted by your own thoughts in a meeting all the while missing out some key information that may have been shared? Have you had some heated discussions in meetings trying to get your point across and totally not being able to see where the other person is coming from?

If yes to any of the above, please review my finding below to gain some further insight into how you could become more of an active listener and reap the rewards:  

  • Being fully present – How many times in meetings do we have our email open watching the mails as they pop in, our mobile vibrating in our pocket letting us know another message has arrived and in general having a number of other thoughts going around our minds – everything to the agenda for our next meeting, an event you need to organise, a topic you are trying to identify a solution for and even what I am going to make for dinner this evening! Although all of this is not being shared verbally with the person you are meant to be listening to, they will know that you are not truly being present with them in their conversation. The knock-on effect of this is that the person may not fully be open with you or even if they do, you may be too distracted to truly hear what they are saying. It is an imperative part of active listening to truly ground yourself before engaging in the conversation, remove all distractions and allow yourself to be fully present for the conversation you are about to have.
  • Note the verbal & nonverbal information being shared – In order to truly actively listen to someone, you need to hear not only what they are saying to you but also what they are not saying to you. This can be picked up by watching their body language, their eye movements and their facial expressions. For example, someone could be telling you they are fine with a decision that has been made but you can see from their lack of eye contact, their crossed arms and overall closed down demeanour that they are in fact not okay with the decision and you may want to explore with them why this is the case and understand their concerns more.
  • Allowing emotions to be shared & acknowledged – During some discussion’s emotions can run high with individuals and it is an important part of active listening to allow this and create a safe environment for the person you are speaking with to allow them to express their emotions. Positive emotions are also shared during the discussing of certain topics and are as important to acknowledge. As an active listener you should name the emotion and acknowledge it with the other person, as by doing so they will truly feel heard. For example, ‘I sense your feeling of frustration with this decision’, or ‘you seem quite upset by this decision’ or ‘you seem to be very pleased at the completion of your recent project milestones’. By naming the emotion you can then explore with the other person why they may be feeling this way and help them move past any obstacles they may be experiencing.
  • Truly listen to the topic from the other person’s perspective – This is not always the easiest one to put into practice, but I challenge you do so as the rewards are great! Even in times when you find yourself totally disagreeing with the comments from another individual in a meeting, I challenge you to remain silent and truly listen to what they are saying until they are finished sharing, truly hear their feedback and why they view the subject matter from such a different view point to you. While you may not still agree, by truly listening to their viewpoint you are better able to view their feedback from their perspective and see the topic more holistically, which can only help as you then continue to share your feedback and come to a solution together.
  • Allow silences & be comfortable with it – Silent pauses while they can be uncomfortable are important elements of the thinking process. While actively listening to someone it is important to allow silence pauses, be comfortable to sit with them and appreciate the internal workings that are generally taking place during such times.

Overall the results of active listening in team meetings, a telephone conversation, a 1-2-1 meeting etc, which I have personally experienced are fantastic! By truly listening I have developed a deeper relationship with people, a quicker result, a better understanding of a topic, a solution easily identified, a turn-around from a disengaged employee to an engaged employee from the feeling of truly being heard……the positive list of results is endless! I also believe active listening is a great way to build trust with people.

I fully appreciate in the busy world we all live in with a need for multitasking on many levels, it is not always possible to truly actively listen in all daily conversations we find ourselves in. My challenge to you is to identify the key 1-2-1 conversations/meetings you have coming up and apply the above and see the results for yourself!

“Active listening is not only a matter of making yourself available to hear someone talk, but it is showing the sender, physically, that you are receiving and understanding their message on all levels.”  – Susan C. Young