The Three Disciplines of Active Listening

All of us know listening is a crucial element of communication. It’s a key attribute of human relations as well. Author David Augsburger even observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

We don’t usually talk about love in the workplace, but listening well is one way we can truly demonstrate that we care. The question is… how do we get there?

Effective active listeners use three disciplines that help improve both their results and relationships.

Listen Actively

It goes without saying that listening requires focus. With so many distractions and competing priorities, it’s tough to block out the noise and concentrate fully on the other person. But there’s an unconscious distraction most leaders face as well – a second conversation going on inside their own heads trying to formulate a response.

We all do it. But it causes more harm than good. First, when we don’t have all the information, our response is uninformed at best and off-base at worst. That hurts results. And on a personal level, it unintentionally conveys that we value efficiency more than empathy. That hurts the relationship.

The best active listeners have the discipline to resist distractions, including engaging in a second mental conversation, and put their full focus on understanding the message.

Confirm Understanding

Once the other person is finished speaking, it’s our turn to provide a response. That’s what most people do. However, active listening is characterized by empathetic understanding. That means the best active listeners take an extra step to confirm the need or request before responding. They ask clarifying questions or restate the message just to make sure they understand.

This little step communicates an unspoken message: I want to make sure I understand because I value this relationship!

Respond Appropriately

After confirming the message, it’s time to respond. Or is it? At this point, many issues resolve themselves! Sometimes people just need to be heard. Sometimes they need to “talk things out” for a moment. Sometimes the answer to a problem just pops up in the process of speaking. At other times, we can simply offer the input that’s needed.

One fear many leaders have (and a barrier to active listening) is that each message will include a large request. This does happen occasionally, but most requests can be solved easily, like requests clarification, direction or input. And in the cases where the action requested is significant, unless it is an emergency, there is usually time to consider it further before acting.

How effective are your active listening skills? Does your approach express empathy, understanding and care? Or is there an opportunity to practice? It’s never the wrong time to take an extra step to show people we care by listening well.

This article is included in the Leadership-in-a-Box® program:

Active Listening

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