February 10, 2021

The Benefits of Active Listening

How would you like to give the other person a concession without giving away anything of tangible value?  It’s easy.   Just listen to him or her...

How would you like to give the other person a concession without giving away anything of tangible value?  It’s easy.  Just listen to him or her. Listening is the least expensive concession you can make. It can well be the most important. 


Active vs. Passive Listening:


Are you listening? Probably not. Research indicates that immediately after people have listened to someone talk, they remember only about half of what they have heard—no matter how carefully they thought they were listening. 


Passive listening is using your ears to hear something without giving the speaker’s message your full attention.  You aren’t checking email, but you’re not giving the communication your full attention either.


Negotiation requires ACTIVE listening. It is too bad that most of us do not know how. Listening is the easiest way to recognize needs and discover facts. If you take the time to listen, you can’t help learning. The trouble is that you have to get out of some bad habits. It means that you must look the speaker in the eye, be alert, sit straight, get close, and be greedy to grasp new information. He or she will reward your efforts by making it easier to pick out his or her points. 


Why don’t we listen? Of the eleven reasons below, only the first is the responsibility of the speaker. The rest are self- inflicted impediments to good listening. 



  1. Most people speak before they think. Their speech is disorganized and hard to listen to.

  2. We have a lot on our minds that cannot be switched off at a moment’s notice. 

  3. We tend to talk and interrupt too much. 

  4. We are anxious to rebut the other person’s arguments. 

  5. We dismiss much of what we hear as irrelevant or uninteresting. 

  6. We tend to avoid listening to hard material because it is too technical or detailed.

  7. We allow ourselves to get distracted and don’t concentrate. The distractions are more fun than the topic under discussion. 

  8. We jump to conclusions before all the evidence is in. 

  9. We try so hard to remember everything that the main points get lost. 

  10. We dismiss some statements because they come from people whom we don’t consider important. 

  11. We tend to discard information we don’t like. 


A close look at the bad habits reveals that they center around one theme. Poor or passive listeners permit themselves to drop out of the conversation in the hope of catching up later. Unfortunately, they don’t. 


Active Listening is Effective Listening


Active listening begins with a realization that a speaker is presenting themselves for your approval.  The speaker wants you to see and believe the presentation. 


Like an actor on a stage, he or she will perform better if you open your senses to what he or she says. 


When people speak, they have a main theme, a few major supporting ideas, and proof that their ideas are sound. The trouble is that people don’t follow that simple pattern. Speaking styles vary. Speakers mix things up. Anecdotes, ideas, irrelevancies, proof, and empty cliches are thrown together for the listener to unscramble. 


How can we cope with this jumble? We can ask the other person to summarize main points and reasons. At times we can summarize the statements and ask whether or not our summary is correct. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t quite get the point,” or “Let me get it straight,” or “Do you mean to say ...,” or “I’m not quite sure how that ties in.” The other person wants you to understand. He or she will welcome the chance to make the point clear. You are doing a favor. 


Listen as though you will have to summarize the main points to your boss. You will find that supporting details will fall in place if you catch the main points. Get into the habit of repeating what has been said so that the speaker knows you understand. 


One Strategy for Better Outcomes


Another good idea is to assign one person on your team as an official “listener” who can take notes and observe what is said, how it is said, the order in which things are said, and what is not said. You will be surprised at how much a perceptive listener can see and hear that others at the table fail to pick up. One company I know of went too far. They had a group of psychologists on the staff and decided to put them into negotiations as listeners. It should have worked but didn’t. The psychologists turned out to be harder to understand than the opponents. 


Gaining Listening Skills with a few Active Listening Activities 


Below are a few more active listening activities that work every time: 



  1. Give full attention. You just can’t listen and do anything else at the same time. 

  2. Don’t interrupt. 

  3. Discourage cute side remarks and distractions. 

  4. Don’t cut off listening when something hard comes up. 

  5. Practice listening to ideas you don’t like. Try to repeat what you’ve heard. 

  6. Let the other person have the last word. 


Listening is the one concession you can give that is guaranteed to get you more than you gave. 

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