8 Strategies for Active Listening


As a Learning Professional, when you interact with participants, their managers and key stakeholders, there are a number of simple strategies to become a better, more active listener.

Use these 8 strategies for Active Listening to instantly sharpen your effectiveness and clearly tune in to what your participants, managers and key stakeholders are really saying.

1.      Acknowledge that you could do better

Studies show that awareness alone is one of the greatest contributors to improved listening. Some experts claim that “50% or more of the average adult’s potential improvement in listening can come from realizing he or she has bad listening habits and is capable of listening much better.”

2.      Practice listening

Once you’ve established that you need to be a better listener, catch yourself out when you are not listening. Focus on your listening activity and you’ll begin to see listening as a conscious act. You are then in a better position to practice active listening skills.

3.      Provide feedback by paraphrasing to ensure understanding

Paraphrasing is an effective tool in demonstrating to the other party in any conversation that they’ve been understood. It is a critical skill for superior business communication.

Statements such as ‘Is this what you are trying to tell me’ and rephrase what you think the other party would like to say, or ‘what I hear you saying is…’

In a paraphrase, capture the essence of what was said while also reflecting the tone. Translate what was said AND what might not have been said into your paraphrase to see if you got the words and also got the feelings that go along with them.

The trick is to mirror back thoughts and feelings in your paraphrase, without injecting your own feelings, judgments or ideas. By ‘leaning into’ the other party’s words, you are able to feel and experience what they are thinking and feeling.

By paraphrasing what is said, the other party is able to affirm and clarify their thinking. Through affirmation, they feel accepted, valued, and respected in the conversation.

The other party can also make adjustments, corrections, or elaborations to the details to ensure accurate mutual understanding.

4.      Be aware of your talking habits

Become aware of how much talking you do compared with the other party. If the conversation is one-sided this may tell you something about your listening skills. Keep the fight for ‘air space’ fair and ensure you can both contribute to the conversation.

5.      Silence is golden

Along with listening, being comfortable with silence is important. The urge to fill a silence can be irresistible. In business conversations: Resist the urge to plug silence with speaking further or asking questions.

Give it time. Value it. The silence provides an accepting space, where the other party is in control of the content, timing, and path of their thinking.

We’re best served by adopting a personal policy of not talking right away, no matter what the other party says. In all conversations, take the time to think and to allow thinking. The ability to pause is a true art.

6.      Take notes

It’s not only a best practice to take notes. Taking notes communicates to the other party that you care about what they are saying and believe it is important enough to be recorded.

Note-taking can be useful in various conversations. It also keeps you occupied so you’re less likely to interrupt or daydream. However, in doing this, you need to ensure the other party knows you are genuinely listening. Maintain rapport and engage with them as you take notes, as well as continuing questions to guide the conversation. Taking notes is another skill to be practiced.

7.      Resolve not to let your mind wander

If you are prone to drifting during a conversation because of something the other party says, make a quick note to come back to your thoughts later. This makes it easier to stay in the ‘here and now’ and ensures that you resume paying attention.

8.      Set the scene

Avoid meetings or important business conversations in the office, where a busy desk, a ringing telephone, email, a ‘pinging’ smartphone, and Instant Message pop-ups and other notifications compete for your attention. Book a meeting room, or go outside for a walk. And ditch your Smartphone! Not only is this good practice and a welcome break from ‘corporate chaos’, it provides an optimal conversation environment free from distractions.

Stop, Listen, Look, and Think!

There is considerable effort involved in good listening. It requires discipline. You need to rearrange some mental furniture to make room for a true conversation, the information it will bring and to reap the benefits of the rapport and stronger relationship that you can build with others. This means taking time to really listen.

There is a lot to consider when mastering the true art of active listening. Listen and Be Listened To, by Catherine Mattiske includes practical tips, tricks and tactics to quickly develop active and effective listening capabilities, starting today!  This bite-sized, instant learning is available in Book, digital Learning and Live Session formats.  All with downloadable workbook and free tools!

L&D Professionals use the ID9 Intelligent Design System in parallel with active listening during meetings and learning programs to really tune into their participants and ensure their needs and motivations are the center of every learning experience, every time.