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Do You Know How to Listen?

Many people pride themselves on being good listeners.

But are you really a good listener?

What does that mean?

How does one listen to facilitate effective communication?

Listening is a skill that can be not only be learned, but also improved, and even perfected. However, it takes desire, dedication, and direction. Many people listen not to hear, but to be heard. Did you catch that?

Often we only listen for the other person to stop talking so that we know when it is our turn to (hopefully) be heard. We miss much of what the other person is saying because we are formulating our next response. And unless they are a skilled listener, they also miss what we want them to know.

It is no wonder that communication issues are at the root of most misunderstandings and conflicts!

The key to effective communication is mutual understanding, and that can only be achieved through active listening. And in fact, the goal of active listening is mutual understanding. The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado provides several tips for learning to be an active listener:

  • Be attentive by fully focusing on the person speaking

  • Repeat back in your own words, what you think you heard the speaker say

  • If necessary, give the speaker an opportunity to clarify further what they mean

  • Acknowledge and define the feelings behind the words—anger, frustration, confusion, disappointment, betrayal, insult, vulnerability, discouragement, anxiety, offensive, resentment, guilt, fear, despair, humiliation, rejection, joy, confidence, sympathy, interest, appreciation, optimism, encouragement, surprise, determination, enthusiasm, etc.


By clarifying what each party is trying to say, and identifying the feelings associated with those thoughts, you give one another the opportunity to “walk in each other’s shoes” for a moment. That promotes mutual understanding in a very powerful way.

The way we phrase things makes a huge difference in the way our message is received. Additionally, helping someone to understand how we feel is crucial to defusing a potentially volatile situation.

For example, rather than saying, “You undermined my authority,” focus instead on how the action made you feel. “When you refused to do as I asked, I felt my authority was being undermined and challenged.” Using “I” not “you” minimizes the chance for a defensive reaction and gives you an opportunity to share how the action rather than the person made you feel. Then offer a solution: “In the future, if you object to an assignment, let’s agree that we will discuss why there is a problem and work on a solution together.”

And like your Mom said, “Interrupting is rude.” Remember, if you are talking, you are not listening.

Conflicts can be avoided when parties have good listening skills. And the basis for the resolution of conflicts when they do arise, is mutual understanding, which can only be achieved through active listening.

Have you ever used active listening to avoid or resolve a conflict? How did it work for you? Would you like to learn to be a better listener?

Deborah J. Thompson, MSL

Mastering the art of active listening is essential in both our personal and professional lives. As leaders, we have a responsibility to refine our own listening skills. If you or your organization would benefit from a custom-designed training program on communication and listening, give me a call: 404-310-0009 to discuss your needs.

#listening #communication

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