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How to apply active listening

Read this 5-part technique on how to set yourself up to be a better, more active listener in the future.

Active listening is at the core of all communication and critical thinking. It is not just about how you are learning to listen, it’s also about you helping others to actively listen to you.

Within 1 hour of completing this course we strongly suggest the following (in parts 1–3, either write down or make a mental note):

Part 1: Self-awareness

  • Notice what you are doing in your next conversation with someone — whether it is in-person or on a call.
  • Which type of listener do you find you are in that conversation?
  • Why do you think you are being that type of listener in that conversation?

Part 2: Awareness of others

  • Notice what type of listener(s) are in that same conversation.
  • Why do you think they are those types of listeners in this conversation?

Part 3: Overall conversation awareness

  • Did you feel the conversation was meaningful?
  • Was it structured (a beginning, middle and end/outcome)? Did it have a purpose?
  • Why do you think it did or didn’t have a structure?
  • How would you have managed the conversation differently? It is important to jot down in your notes as it’ll be interesting for you to re-read after 3, 6 and 9 months of practice.

Part 4: Overall awareness for the next conversation/meeting to see if it was set up for active listening to occur

If you have been invited into a new conversation/meeting, start asking yourself these questions if you don’t already have the answers.

  • Was the purpose of this meeting made clear to you?
  • If you were asking for the meeting, did you make this clear to others?
  • Do you know why you are at the meeting?
  • Do you think others know why they are at the meeting?
  • Is the desired outcome clear upfront?
  • Look at your answers — would you restructure your next meetings better?

Part 5: Actively implementing your new knowledge

In parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, you took time to observe and reflect. Now you are ready to implement.

Scenario A: If you are pulled into a meeting you know nothing about, immediately raise your hand to ask: “Delighted to be here, however, I don’t know why I am here. Can someone please give me a quick recap and let me know what you would like from me specifically? Also, not to be rude, I have another meeting in exactly 30 minutes so will need to leave here promptly in 20 minutes to make it. Just want to be fully present hence my letting you know.”

Scenario B: You receive an invite to a meeting tomorrow. Your calendar shows you can attend. However, the invite has no information on it. Immediately send an email to the organizer: “Looking forward to meeting with you tomorrow. Can you please send me an agenda and any prep work so I can be prepared and present?”

Scenario C: You need to meet with a task force to kick off a project. Before you set up the meeting, have you thought through all you can to help set up the group to actively listen and be present and focused? Think through all you would want. Check through scenarios A and B, as this time it is you who is the organizer.

Scenario D: Add 10 minutes to the agenda of the next meeting you set up and call it: “Coaching Brainstorm”. In that 10 minutes ask your attendees how many types of listeners they know. If they aren’t already aware, list the 4 out. Then ask them to think of what kind of listener they think you are, and what kind of listener they think they are. And end by saying you are aiming to be an active listener as frequently as possible, and if they are interested you would be delighted to take them through the course. Summary: It is really important the people you interact with frequently are on the same page around communication and secondly, everyone loves to learn something new.

Scenario E: You see a person you need to get some information from in the hallway. You feel compelled to pull them aside and ask your important question. Have you observed if this person is also in a rush? Is the timing right? If you can’t tell, remember to ask this person. “Hi. Just the person I want to see. Do you have 3 minutes? If not, I’ll get on your calendar.” If the person says it’s okay, make sure it is only 3 minutes. If the person doesn’t have time and you haven’t asked, they will not be actively listening and your conversation will be pointless.

Constant improvement

This is a way of life. It will take daily remembering and practice. People who have been practicing for years still notice ways to improve. It keeps things interesting. Enjoy it.

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Active Listening: How to Be an Effective Communicator

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