Don’t Just Listen, Be An Active Listener

Business Communication Relies on Active Listening

Stephen R. Covey said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Everyone has an opinion and something to say, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is when people spend too much time responding and not enough time listening.

Having active listening skills benefits everyone, and not just at work. Yes, being an active listener during a presentation is certainly going to improve your overall communication with the group; but, active listening can also go a long way to settle an argument with a stranger, understand your partner’s needs, and build solid relationships.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between listening and active listening, you’re not the only one. But once you do, you can implement changes in your behavior that will improve your relationships at work and at home.

Improve Your Business Communication

There’s a significant difference between hearing what someone’s saying and active listening—that is, processing their words and intent.

Active listening means allowing for a distraction-free environment where the person on the receiving end listens with all their senses so they can accept the intent of the conversation. By communicating this way, you can better formulate a response when it’s required.

Do you use active listening skills in your day-to-day interactions with people? You’ll see your business communication improve if you do and here’s why:

You can build appropriate responses through understanding the problem. An important aspect of active listening is turning off the response-building mechanism that many people trigger while someone is talking. Building a response before someone has finished communicating means that assumptions are made, and conclusions are drawn; you’re no longer truly engaged when you’re thinking of what you’re going to say. By listening and proactively caring about what the speaker is saying, noting body language and showing physical “I am paying attention” responses, you can build a better response to the situation.

Hearing example: Sam is undergoing his yearly performance review with his supervisor, Kim. There’s a problem with Sam regularly leaving work early, and Sam is explaining his side of the story. This is Kim’s eighth performance review of the day and she’s tired of hearing excuses for shortcomings in her employees’ performance, so she interrupts Sam and says, “Regardless, we need you to work on improving this area.” Sam is offended by Kim’s short response and leaves the conversation feeling on edge.

Listening example: Even though Kim has had many conversations with her employees today, she understands that each is an individual who deserves to be heard. Moreover, each employee should be given the chance to communicate their issues. She listens to Sam’s story and learns that he’s in a bind with his son’s daycare, and he’s been leaving early to rush home to take care of his child. Through interactive questions and after bouncing ideas back and forth, Kim offers Sam some flexibility with hours to accommodate his home life. Sam feels less stressed and confident that he can perform better now.

You can diffuse emotions by not disregarding them. No human is void of emotion, and although companies have historically expected their employees to “leave personal stuff at home,” the truth is it can be extremely difficult to do that. The result is poor job performance or even angry outbursts.

Emotions come in different shapes and sizes, and they’re often masked by behavior that doesn’t match. A person responding angrily may actually be in pain, for example. In order to improve communication at your business, it’s important to hear people out to understand the underlying issue. Without this information, you can’t respond appropriately.

Hearing example: Sam storms into Kim’s office to angrily complain about his colleague. Kim is distracted by an email she’s reading and only picks up on Sam’s angry tone and a few words here and there. Kim is irritated and interrupts Sam, telling him to calm down and that his colleague is a hard worker. This makes Sam angry and the conversation becomes angry and bitter.

Listening example: Kim looks away from her computer when Sam comes in, noting his anger. She hears how Sam’s colleague ruined his biggest sale of the year. Kim invites Sam to sit, and listens while he gets his words across. When he’s finished, she asks imploring questions. Kim learns that this isn’t the first time their personalities have clashed, and that Sam is really frustrated about not hitting sales targets and achieving his best. Knowing the problem, Kim decides to separate the two colleagues. Sam is grateful that he’s heard.

You can improve knowledge and understanding of every situation encountered. Active listening skills aren’t just to diffuse conflicts. By improving your active listening skills in any situation, you’ll expand your knowledge and understanding of situations and experiences around you.

Hearing example: Sam attends a development seminar with his entire office. Sitting in the back, many of his coworkers take this time to catch up on social media and whisper jokes to one another. Sam allows himself to get distracted by his phone and tunes in and out of what the speaker is saying. Afterwards, he considers the seminar a waste of time and goes home.

Listening example: Sam brings a notepad to the seminar and turns his phone off as the speaker steps up to the mic. He keeps his eye on the speaker, nods along with what’s said, and jots down notes and quotes that apply to him. Even though he wasn’t sure what to expect, Sam’s excited about what’s being shared and chats about it with friends after work. He applies what he’s learned at the seminar to his day-to-day life and feels positive.

Master Active Listening Skills

Don’t worry if you feel your active listening skills have been lacking up to this point. If you’re now realizing this shortcoming may be responsible for problems in your business relationships, here’s what you can do today to make things better:


  • Remove distractions: Get off your email, put your phone down, look away from the TV.
  • Make eye contact: A lack of eye contact indicates you’re distracted or disinterested.
  • Nod: Show that you’re digesting what’s being said.
  • Wait to speak: Avoid interrupting and wait until the speaker finishes.
  • Ask open-ended questions: If more details are needed, ask for them.
  • Paraphrase: Repeat back to the speaker what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve understood.
  • Recall a previous conversation: Show that you’ve actively listened in the past!

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