Active listening is more than just hearing

You know the feeling when you say something to your spouse/partner/relative and they nod as if they registered your request/question/words, but when you ask back they answer you with the following question: What were you saying exactly? At home, you may be indulgent, but at a workplace, such behavior is simply not acceptable.

 “The art of conversation lies in listening.” (Malcom Forbes)



Active listening should be a core competence not just in a coaching practice, but at any workplaces as well. It is more than just to be waiting for your turn to speak: it is part of the art of real, empathetic and good conversations. When you really listen you don’t just hear what the other person says but you understand the meaning of it, you see the background story behind the words and you can connect to it.

  • Active listening is not possible without actually looking at the person who is talking to you. Put aside everything that might distract you, face the speaker and maintain eye contact. This way your attention will be less divided.
  • Pay full attention to the speaker. Put daydreaming aside, stop thinking about what to say or ask next, judging what the other person says and refrain from listening with a specific outcome in your mind. In other words: empty your mind and be receptive to the other person’s story. Even though your mind might work faster than the other persons talk, don’t interrupt them trying to finish their sentences and finding solutions to their untold problems. Remember: your task is to listen now and not to win a competition of fast thinking and finding better solutions.
  • In order to be able to hold your focus, try to picture what the speaker is saying. Concentrate on and try to remember keywords and phrases and concentrate on what is said, even if you feel being bored.
  • Whether you would like to ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding, wait for the speaker to pause. As I just said earlier: interrupting is rude. Being an active listener means that you can tolerate silence and can respect quiet moments. By paying full attention you will know when you should ask open questions to move the conversation forward or paraphrase what is said before to clarify common understanding.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal clues. Remember that words only convey only a fraction of the message: listen to the tone of the voice to detect boredom, enthusiasm, irritation or any other feeling really quickly. Pay attention to the movement of the eyes, the line of the lips, the movement of the hands and the slope of the shoulders. You have to be non-verbally involved while listening to the speaker as well: nodding your head or raising your eyebrows, even making sounds that indicate attentiveness.

An easy exercise to boost your ability of active listening is: at least once a week conclude every conversation with the summary of what was told. It is especially useful at the end of conversations that contained agreements for future obligations or activities.

If you would like to boost your active listening skill “within the walls of a safe environment” then I would suggest doing it by playing a serious game, namely, FLIGBY that measures and helps you to improve 29 leadership skills including this one as well.