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Active Listening

So what is Active Listening? And why do I need to know?
Many job specifications will include something about Active Listening. It is probably a “Skill” that is required of all. But do we really understand what that skill is?
In this quick article – the first of three on the subject – I will set out an initial model that might help. It is not intended to be a deep exploration of all the skills required, but an initial first look. The model is based on a structure by Frank P. Saladis in his book Positive Leadership in Project Management.

What I really like about the model – indeed why I wanted to share and sign-post it to you – was the opening item.

Like to Listen

“Like to listen” is so very simple but so very hard to do. I can speak from personal experience: it is one of my weaknesses that I have to work hard at. Why?
Because my very strong sensory preference is visual. And I create a picture of things quite quickly. And so my weakness is to “jump in” and finish the picture. Not a very endearing habit and one I have to work at. So as a first step to Active Listening you have to like to listen. To want to listen. Remember, we have two ears and one mouth so work to that ratio as often as you can. Especially in a new setting or context.

Ignore Distractions

Ignoring distractions means focusing on the conversation and nothing else. Again quite hard at times – how often do you catch yourself wandering off on a tangent, only to be brought back to the here and now when you hear your name?
There is an element of mindfulness here. Not that I want to jump off on that tangent (see what I’ve done there!!).  But being present, with those around you, and actively listening is a very selfless act. It demonstrates a willingness to put others first. To allow someone else to articulate their views. Or drive a discussion. It shows respect.
Ignore distractions. Be present.


If you get these first two elements right you are well placed to summarise when required. Sometimes this might be for your own benefit and understanding. Or you may sense that others in the session or group might benefit from an interim summary. How might you sense this? Because you like to listen, have ignored all other distractions and are present. You can demonstrate these things with a quick interim summary. Not to show off. But because you want to truly understand what is happening.

Tame emotions

If you are going to summarise make sure you do so without emotion. Keep to the content of the discussion. Do so in a collaborative, non-emotive way. Your non-emotive summary can then be a natural stepping stone to the next segment or topic and a nice, clean break. It could and should benefit all.

Eliminate Hasty Decisions

There is often pressure to make quick decisions or to define and implement action plans to meet tough deadlines. But these can be addressed without being hasty. Hasty to me suggests a rushed decision, probably with insufficient data. But your active listening skills will enable you to recall almost all of the discussion. And your summary will play that back to a group. And perhaps generate sensible questions to further break down a topic. All of these active listening skills – and others to be covered in Parts 2 and 3 – will help avoid hasty decisions being made.

Never Interrupt.

Always avoid interrupting others. For there will always be a natural pause or break soon enough. We have covered respect already. Finding the right time to respond continues that respect. Interject by all means. Draw things to a conclusion if or when appropriate. Ask questions (and yes that is another Blog!). But listen to the discussion and its flow and find the right time to do so, without interrupting. So there you have it. A quick look at active listening and some thoughts on what it means.
In Part 2 of the Active Listening Series we will investigate how we listen with our brains and not just our ears. We will look at sensory preference (told you I was visual!) and the “MPH” framework from Stephen Cope’s excellent book “The 7 C’s of Consulting”.
In Part 3 I want to signpost you to Language and Behaviour (LAB) Profile’s and how it’s six Motivation Patterns and eight Productivity Patterns can help you really understand people.
And finally, a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you may learn something new”.

Graham Burke
House of PMO Lodger
The Den

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