Active listening: why it is more important now than ever

Insight shared by:

Kiddy & Partners

In speaking to clients in numerous organisations and contexts, the incredibly positive picture that has emerged is how quickly and skillfully people and business have responded to the home working challenge.

IT has been upgraded, Microsoft Teams and Zoom has been installed and we have switched comfortably to connecting virtually. Well done all.

We’ve all been encouraged to learn the tips of home working. We’ve adapted our rooms to make our bookshelves look more high-brow and we have become skilled at virtual drinks and virtual pub quizzes. But have we upskilled ourselves in one of life’s most universally important skills – listening and really actively listening? 

This is skill that we all can get better at, just ask your partner, children, colleague and staff. If you are honest with yourself when was the last time you really properly listened to anyone?

Author Nancy Kline (2014) summed it up best when she said: “Most people, including most professionals, listen to reply. Most people take in what they are hearing just enough to come up with something to say in response. They listen to comment, to advise, to diagnose, to determine a clever intervention, to direct. They are within seconds out of step and out of date with the thinker. The thinker knows this, and their thinking slows down. They can sense the gradual and then accelerated, revving to speak that people do as they listen.” (1)

How much more important it is to really listen in our lockdown virtual world? How often on a video call have you been taking in the other person’s surroundings, or staring at your own image wondering how long you can cope without taking the scissors to your hair. Much of the emotional content of a message usually comes through via visual cues, which are much more limited when all you’ve got to go on is a fuzzy image on the screen.

More importantly, think of all the things we are not learning by not listening properly. Do you really know what is going on in your colleague's, customer's, world as you talk to them, or are you making lots of assumptions based on your own experience? Do you really know what is most critical for them? How many times has your leader really tried to listen to you and find out, what is really concerning you at the moment or have they just tried to tell you what you can do to cope?

Key building blocks

As a Psychologist I would say that our mindset, not the technology is what will enable you up to listen and the key building blocks are;

Paying Attention

  • A primary goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone and allow time and opportunity for the other person to think and speak
  • Pay attention to your frame of mind, your body language and pay attention to the other person
  • Be present, focused on the moment and operate from a place of respect

Holding Judgement

  • Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities
  • Even when good listeners have strong views they suspend judgement, hold their criticism and avoid arguing or selling their point right away
  • Tell yourself “I’m here to understand how the other person sees the world. It is not time to judge or give my view”. Be with and be for the other person (3)
  • Keep others talking, when the other person runs out of steam, invite them to continue (2)

    On a Post-it note keep these principles in front of you and remember what gets in the way of active listening: On-off listening – allowing head noise to take over
    • Having open eyes but a closed mind
    • Being subject-centred and not person-centred
    • Allowing matter over mind
    • Unhelpful interruptions – including being uncomfortable with silence
    • Making snap judgements or assumptions

Being listened to is a key human need and to be able to listen is one the they key leadership qualities that transcends any context.

“We must be silent before we can listen.
We must listen before we can learn
We must learn before we can prepare
We must prepare before we can serve
We must serve before we can lead” (4)

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  1. Kline, N. (2014) A Time to Think, Cassell Press
  2. Webb, C (2016) How to have a good day; Pan Press
  3. Spinelli, E (2007) Practising Existential Psychotherapy. The Relational World. Sage Publications
  4. Ward, W.A., (1999) Leadership with a human touch, Ragan Communications

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