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Active listening: Why you are probably missing out

"You never listen"

Remember this scene from Nanny McPhee? Where the young Simon Brown (Thomas Sangster) in a very powerful scene erupts at his father (Colin Firth) when the latter dodges questions about his interest in Mrs. Quickly and angrily dismisses Simon leading to the youngster leaving but before blurting out the words, "You never listen." Leaving his father albeit a little heartbroken. You can refresh your memory here

Even if you haven't seen the movie, you may have experienced this kind of situation in your life- maybe on the receiving end of this kind of taunt or giving end. This form of misunderstanding is arguably one of the most common ones to come across. So why aren't we 'listening'?

Hearing is merely a physical activity, while listening is a skill.

So listening or better yet active listening requires one to understand, retain, and respond to the speaker. In the scene above notice how Colin Firth is immediately defensive when his oldest son tries to talk to him which prevents him from actually trying to listen to what his son might have to say. While the above is, of course, a dramatic representation it nonetheless represents the kind of internal chatter present within a person that can prevent him from actively listening to anyone else.

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. This may be to get your own point across or even think of a response however the opinion people form around you is that you may be arrogant and not value other people.

Why you probably aren't listening

1. Trying to stand out

Trying to get everyone's attention in the business meeting? Think you have that one amazing idea that will rock everyone's world? You probably do. But guess what no one will care if you unintentionally (or intentionally) squash someone else's point or just simply don't listen to the overall context of the meeting and just blurt out your idea. You got their attention sure, but you probably come across as insensitive and arrogant. Not to mention your idea is the last thing on anyone's mind now.

2. Quick! Say something funny!

Or maybe you are just thinking of something to say at all. The expectations during corporate communications are sometimes that of absolute perfection which isn't exactly second nature to a lot of people. Many people prefer to have a good thought about what they wish to contribute and yet due to pressures of contributing to any discussion a lot of focus may be relegated to thinking of what to say next rather than listening to what you must reply to.

3. Trying to give the impression you are interested.

There is not much to say here. Stop trying to tick the items of the list of being a good listener with all the non-verbal/verbal clues and simply focus on listening completely and truly. It'll be the retention not the act that will create a lasting impression on your contemporaries.

I hear you! I mean listen... But how do I improve?

Here are some quick tips you can focus on to listen more actively

1. Stop worrying about your next line: This isn't a play, your best response will be the one you make through assimilation of all that you are hearing.

2. Try to be empathetic while listening: Invest yourself personally on what is being said. Empathy is coming up to be one of the most important skills and contributes immensely to being a better listener.

3. Avoid judgment: Is it hard? yes, however you will find that listening to learn rather than to judge allows you to actually improve yourself and foster better relationships with people.

4. Don't interrupt: Doesn't need an explanation.


Active listening is one of the most important skills for any manager, business leader, or coach. In our flagship Coach II Lead program we focus not just on how to be a better coach but also on how to use listening to ask powerful questions which are instrumentally useful to get the most out of the people around you be it in your personal or professional life. Find out more here.

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