Active listening occurs once the listener receives, understands and evaluates the received information before responding.
The ability to listen actively, as a leader, has a major impact on your leadership, workplace effectiveness, and the quality of your relationships with customers, direct reports, peers and direct managers.
In the workplace we listen to:
- obtain information
- build rapport
- enhance relationships
- tailor solutions.
Listening vs hearing
Listening is a process of communication and, to be successful, it must be an active process. In other words, you must be an active participant the communication process.
One serious misconception is that listening is the same as hearing. It could lead us to believe that effective listening is instinctive. Consequently, we make little or no effort to learn or develop listening skills and thus neglect a vital communication function.
Hearing is only the first stage of listening. It occurs when sound waves are picked up by the ears and then delivered to your brain for processing.
However, we cannot say listening occurs unless the listener receives, understands, and evaluates the received information before responding. While the speaker is talking, the hearer must be actively working through these stages, or they are simply not listening.
Common barriers to active listening
There are many obstacles to effective listening that we all fall victim to at different times. The following are some of the most common obstacles we unintentionally create:
Comparing. Inability to take in large amounts of information because the listener is too busy trying to assess how they measure up.
Mind reading. The listener is busy trying to figure out what the speaker is thinking or feeling, rather than listening to what they are saying.
Rehearsing. The listener’s focus is on the preparation and construction of their next comment.
Filtering. Listening to some things and not others, also known as selective hearing. The mind can wander while a person is speaking.
Judging. Not pay attention to what someone says as they have been pre-judged before speaking.
Dreaming. Half-listening because a trigger sets off a chain of private thoughts.
Identifying. Referring to personal experiences when speaking to someone, normally launching into a story before they can finish theirs.
Advising. Attempting to problem-solve without hearing the feelings of and acknowledging the speaker.
Sparring. The tendency to argue and debate, with a primary focus on finding reasons to disagree with the speaker.