The simplest example of interpersonal communication in the workplace is a conversation between two people. This activity makes up a significant proportion of the total amount of communication that you are involved in each day, and doing it well has a big influence on your effectiveness as a manager.

A deceptively simple concept called active listening can really help you to improve your communication skills . It was originally developed in the context of therapeutic interviews, but its principles can be applied to workplace communications .

Active listener

Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills and is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker. As a listener, you should remain neutral and non-judgmental; this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in the conversation.

Active listening is concerned with improving your ability to understand exactly what the other party means when speaking to you. This is not as straightforward as it sounds because active listening involves listening for meaning (specifically, the meaning perceived by the other party), not just listening to the words they use and accepting them at face value.

Active listening requires patience because people need time to explore their own thoughts and feelings before putting them into words. This means that short periods of silence should be accepted and you need to resist the temptation to jump in with questions or comments every time the speaker pauses.

Degrees of active listening

A listener can use several degrees of active listening, each resulting in a different quality of communication. The active listening chart above shows the three main degrees of listening:

• Repeating
• Paraphrasing
• Reflecting

There is no universally accepted definition of active listening because its main elements were already in widespread use before clinical psychologist Carl Rogers popularized the term in 1957. Rogers described active listening from a therapeutic standpoint and his original definitions are not all that helpful in everyday workplace communications.

However, from a practical perspective, the essence of this skill is to put your own concerns, attitudes, and ideas to one side while you listen. Without these distractions you are able to observe all the conscious and unconscious signs displayed, enabling you to discern the true meaning behind spoken words.

Active listening

This technique leaves the speaker in no doubt that you are giving them your full attention and when it is used skillfully, active listening can:

• Demonstrate your undivided attention
• Encourage the other party to continue speaking
• Restart a completely stalled narrative
• Reassure the other party regarding self-disclosure
• Confirm, improve, or correct your understanding
• Fill any gaps in the content of the narrative
• Improve the other party's insight into the issues
• Build rapport between you and the other party

Active Listening Tips - Good listeners' detach themselves from their own concerns, attitudes, and ideas whilst they are listening. You achieve this by removing such distractions allowing you to observe both the conscious and unconscious signs of the speaker. You are then able to identify any discrepancies between these two signs and discern the true meaning of what has been said.

You may also be interested in:
Definition of Active Listening | Reflective Technique | Questioning Skills | Barriers to Active Listening | Advantages of Active Listening .


Key Points

  • Active listening is a straightforward technique that you can use to improve your communication skills.
  • Active listening involves listening for meaning, not just listening to the words that are spoken.
  • An active listener is neutral, non-judgmental, and fully engaged throughout the conversation.
  • Active listening demonstrates your undivided attention, encourages the other party to continue speaking, and can build rapport and understanding between you and the speaker.


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