Recently I’ve met a lot of new people and learned a lot of new information about areas of business and life that I never knew about before. Fascinating to see what makes people successful. 

I often get asked what I do for a living. When I start to give the answer, about ten seconds in, the person generally starts talking about themselves. Did they really want to know about me? Or was it just lip service? 

Were they really listening? 

And, what’s this got to do with anything? 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who seemed to be nodding and agreeing with you the whole time, only for them to completely miss the point and provide an unhelpful response? Perhaps you’ve been guilty of doing the same thing – tuning out while someone speaks and formulating a response before they’ve even finished speaking. Believe me, we all do this, particularly in conflict where miscommunication is the root of all conflict. 

We think about what we’re going to say to “beat” the other person. We don’t care what they are actually saying. This is the problem in conflict resolution, as well as good communication generally. 

In either case, we’ve all experienced the failure to truly listen, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. That’s where active listening comes in – a concept that goes beyond hearing and is essential to effective communication and conflict resolution.

So, what exactly is active listening?

It’s summed up in one sentence; active listening is listening to understand, not to respond. 

Read that again.

It’s a technique used to fully understand the message being conveyed. Rather than simply hearing the words being spoken, active listening involves paying attention to the speaker’s tone, body language, and emotions, while also reflecting on the message’s underlying meaning. Active listening requires conscious effort and intentionality from the listener, with the goal being to fully understand the message being conveyed.

And that’s fine. But it’s only one part. The other part is showing the other person that you’re listening. 

What makes Active Listening different from normal listening or hearing?

Normal listening, or hearing, is the act of receiving audio information via your ears. It’s a passive process that requires little effort on your part. You may catch snippets of information, but without actively processing what you’ve heard, retaining the information and comprehending its meaning is less likely. Regular listening is a one-way process, while active listening involves a two-way dialogue between the speaker and listener. By actively paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, a listener can effectively process, comprehend and respond in a way that better reflects the speaker’s intended meaning.

Active listening has many benefits, including improving overall communication, fostering empathy, and building relationships. It’s also vital in resolving conflict or de-escalating someone’s who is angry or aggressive. Read about that here. 

Here are some of the reasons why active listening is so crucial:

Better Communication – Active Listening Increases Understanding:

Effective communication is key to building strong relationships in both personal and professional settings. By becoming an active listener, we can improve our understanding of the speaker’s message, even in difficult or emotional situations. It also enables us to provide thoughtful responses and ask meaningful questions, leading to more productive conversations.

Enhances Empathy and Relation-building:

When we actively listen, we acknowledge the speaker’s feelings and thoughts. This approach creates a feeling of comfort and ease between the speaker and listener. It encourages openness, honesty and helps build trust in the relationship. By showing empathy towards the speaker, we create opportunities for connection, leading to stronger and more meaningful relationships with others.

Reduces Conflict:

Misunderstandings, lack of clarity, and confusion can often cause conflict. By employing active listening techniques, we can effectively reduce the risk of miscommunication that can often trigger unnecessary conflict. Actively listening to understand allows a listener to provide thoughtful, constructive feedback, thereby resolving any potential disputes before they happen.

To be a better communicator, and more effective problem-solver, start by developing the art of active listening. If you’re in a client facing role that has to deal with angry, difficult or abusive customers, then active listening is a skill you want to practice. 

Everyone thinks they actively listen, but the reality is that it takes work. 

At the Professional Investigators College of Australasia (PICA), we specialise in teaching communication skills such as active listening. Get in touch with us today on how we can help improve your active listening skills.