… the question is… are you actively doing it….

… actively listening that is…. Because it really does make a difference to the conversation and the outcome…

You know that glazed look in someone’s eyes when you are talking to them and it’s really important that they not only listen to what you’re saying but really hear it and understand what you’re saying… I know that for me the feeling I get is that the person doesn’t care, I’m boring them, I’m really not making a good of getting over the points I have to make.. and other things besides…

So what does it feel like to others when ever for a moment we let our eyes glaze over?


Or how about the number of times that someone’s asked if you had a good day at the office or how was the journey home… invariably its an automatic response and to be honest the question was probably an automatic question. There’s no real connection or interest in the question or the answer… The person responding isn’t listening to the question asked of them.

How about the times that you sense the other person is only listening with ‘one ear’ and they can repeat back to you the last few words that you said if asked but the rest of the sentence would be an educated guess based on the ending of the sentence. If the boot, or the ear, was on the other foot – how would we feel about the level of listening and engagement that was taking place?

Conversely there’s the experience where someone can listen to you as you’ve explained something to them and can then respond with focused questions based on the information you’ve shared. The whole experience is really different when this level of interaction due to the way the person was listening to you….

Even more so when not only can the person tell someone the information that you’ve shared with them but they make sense when they explain it… it demonstrates they have been actively listening even if they weren’t that interested in what you said.

And the highest level of listening; the really active listening where you can teach someone else the information that you’ve heard.

There’s a range of reasons why people don’t listen – they may not be interested in the subject, the person speaking may have no animation in their voice or the delivery style is poor, they are distracted by what’s going on around them, the person speaking is making no eye contact at all, the body language doesn’t match/mirror the message at all or the person has a habit of not listening or has a lot of self talk going on. Or it maybe a combination. Sometimes people stop listening because the message being given is unpalatable and they just switch off.
So what are the keys to active listening?

Firstly – as trite as it may seem sometimes it can be really useful to remind people that they have two ears and one mouth and using them in that proportion is more than good manners, it means they are listening more fully.

Making eye contact with someone can be quite uncomfortable for some people yet alone maintaining eye contact, its not about staring people down or but maintaining eye contact for say 5 seconds, breaking away and then resuming eye contact, you should of course be watching people’s faces.

Make notes, it significantly helps recall, even if its key words. Even better would be to use mind maps.

Don’t jump to conclusions, listen to everything that someone has to say, turn your personal filters off re the information that you normally listen to and don’t finish off other people’s sentences for them.

Don’t forget to respond, especially when on a telephone or Skype call…. Even if its saying I see, I understand or similar on a regular basis.

Use good open questions that encourage others to speak.

Dig deeper into the detail by asking focused core questions, get underneath the stated facts.

Press pause…. Don’t jump straight in…. you’ll listen to the end of the sentence and then you’ll hear more but also pause before you speak… it shows that you are thinking and assimilating what you’ve heard.

And I would also suggest using the rapid repeat system; something I learnt from many years ago. Rapid repeat adds to the rate of retention of the information you are hearing even for someone who usually has a high retention rate.

Here’s how to use rapid repeat:

  • Whilst the other person is speaking repeat what they are saying ‘in your head’
  • Use exactly the same pace, tonality and words they are using
  • Start ‘rapid repeating’ a fraction of a second after they have started to speak
  • Keep practicing and soon it becomes second nature

One additional tip – don’t move your lips whilst you are using rapid repeat for all the obvious reasons!

And what about the art of actively listening to yourself and picking up on the language you use, the amounts of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, which creep in as you are talking, and the actual words you use?

Mark Radcliffe, the 6Music DJ, has made the protracted ‘erms’, ‘ums’ etc. he uses part of persona but if you or I were to talk to people using as many as he does we would lose both credibility and people’s attention very quickly. Its much better to have short silence then fill that space with ‘ums’.

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