Ever felt frustrated that your message isn't understood? Ever felt nervous about speaking up?

Active Listening

Listening is a fundamental part of our everyday lives, both personal and professional. As such, it is a skill that can be taken for granted. However, research studies report that we only remember a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. This means that when we talk to colleagues, friends or family members for 10 minutes they may only really hear 2½-5 minutes of the conversation! Turn that around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t necessarily hearing the whole message either.

The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. Active listening is a very successful set of listening skills and techniques which enable the listener to accurately construe what the speaker is intending to say. In turn, the speaker feels heard and understood. Consequently, the people in communication stand a far greater chance at solving problems, resolving conflicts and creating a more collaborative relationship. It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, but the value to be gained from improving your listening skills makes the effort worthwhile. The well known SOLER technique provides a set of basic strategies for enhancing your listening skills.

S Sit SQUARELY to the other person, preferably at a 5 o’clock position to avoid the possibility of staring.
O Maintain an OPEN posture at all times, not crossing your arms or legs which can appear defensive.
L LEAN slightly in towards the other person.
E Maintain EYE CONTACT with the other person without staring - taking cultural considerations regarding the use of eye contact into account.
R RELAX. This should in turn help the other person to relax.

Read our Hints and Tips for more strategies to improve active listening

  • Pay attention - stop talking, stop talking, give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly. Put aside distracting thoughts and don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
  • Show that you are listening - Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. Also note your posture and make sure it remains open and inviting.
  • Provide feedback - our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions. Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back. Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?” Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.
  • Defer judgment - interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish. Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments.
  • Respond appropriately - active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. Be candid, open, and honest in your response. Assert your opinions respectfully. Treat the other person as he/she would want to be treated.