Leveraging Active Listening

How to Utilize Active Listening to Further your Career

Co.Lab Team
December 8, 2023

Don’t you just hate it when you enter into a conversation and feel like you’re not being ‘understood’? As if you’re talking to someone, but never feeling that you’re ‘getting through’?

We've all been there — stuck in a conversation, feeling unheard and misunderstood.

Now imagine if this is how your customers, co-workers, and bosses are feeling. This is what happens when you’re not an active listener. You will lose opportunities and fail to establish much valuable rapport.

Fortunately, this is a skill that you can learn about and practice. Read on if you’re interested in upgrading this aspect of your skill set!

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What is active listening and why is it important?

Active listening is a type of communication skill where you become an active participant in a conversation. Too often, people go on auto-pilot when someone’s talking to them. People don’t like it when you don’t pay attention. It’s an easy way to show that you’re disinterested. Once they start feeling negatively that way, the negativity is closely associated with you.

Are you only listening to reply? Try listening to understand instead.

If you’re working in a customer-centric role like sales, customer service, UX, product management, or account management, you want to be ‘present’ with your customers. They are your sources of revenue and data - and they deserve someone who can listen to them with full attention.

Active listening doesn’t need to be hard. It’s not faking attention or a manipulative way to pitch your ask. Instead, it’s a crucial skill to show empathy where you put others’ needs before yours.

"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say." --Bryant H. McGill

Balancing the Scale of Attention and Response

Imagine you’re in a theater for a live performance. The singer, with their guitar in tow, starts singing a beautiful melody. You liked it so much that midway, you started clapping. Well, you just ruined their performance. Alternatively, the singer finished their piece and nobody reacted - how do you think the singer would feel?

Active listening is just like that. It’s about learning to show your response considering:

  • the appropriate time to show it
  • the intensity that will convey the most impact
  • And this takes time and experience to get good at. That’s why it’s a skill.

Listening too long passively - because you care about what they say - may show that you’re not interested or only being polite by letting them finish. On the flip side, react too much and the discussion may get sidetracked, leaving your conversation partner unable to unsatisfactorily unload their thoughts.

6 key active listenign skills: Paying attention, reflecting, clarifying, withholding judgment, summarizing, sharing

It’s all about finding the balance - which can be difficult!

Conversations are significantly impacted by culture. In some Western countries, maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect. Whereas in some Asian collectivist cultures, looking eye-to-eye can be too direct and a sign of a potential attempt to assert dominance.

Again, it’s all about finding the balance and understanding that cultures are diverse. Communication styles number thousands. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

Tips to Get Better. Listening with Intentionality.

  • Identify the impetus of the conversation. Are they trying to vent? Then keep quiet and listen. Are they looking for a solution? Then provide insights as you build solutions.
  • Pay attention to body language. Nod your head, show appropriate facial reactions (e.g. surprise, disgust, happiness), lean forward, mirror expressions and postures.
  • Control your urges. Do not give advice when not asked. Do not make the story about you. Do not talk over. Simply acknowledge their story and make them feel special.
  • Use open-ended questions. It gives your conversation partner some ‘ropes’ to grasp to expand their thoughts. Also shows that you’re willing to extend the conversation.
  • Avoid why questions. Why questions make it feel more like an interrogation. As if, you’re shifting the burden to the other party, and making them justify their actions.
  • Listen to understand, not to reply. Good listeners do not anticipate what to reply. They’re just in the moment and showing genuine reactions. Remove yourself from the equation.

To end, active listening is simply about showing the highest form of sympathy. You listen not to satisfy your curiosity, boost your ego, say what you would’ve done, or berate them for choosing differently. It’s all about letting them guide the conversation and making them feel heard and understood.

Often, people just want someone to listen. Be someone else's safe space.

Most of the time, people already know what to do. They just haven’t had the time to verbalize, process, and justify their thoughts. Your job is to be a safe place for others to sort their thoughts and regulate their emotions.

Active listening is one of the best ways to foster genuine and intimate relationships. They can get you farther in life and career if you know how to master this crucial skill.

Summarizing our Empathy Learnings

In today's fast-paced world, where genuine connection often takes a backseat, the power of active listening stands out as a beacon of authenticity.

It's more than just a communication technique; it's a testament to valuing relationships and truly understanding others. By mastering the art of active listening, we not only enhance our personal and professional relationships but also create a space for empathy, understanding, and mutual respect.

So, the next time you find yourself in a conversation, remember to listen actively. The rewards, both intangible and tangible, are immeasurable.

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