The Importance of Active Listening

Humans are mostly good at hearing and poor at listening.

You have probably been there – looking to discuss an important topic at home or at work and the person you are speaking with is distracted, looking around the room, clearly not focused on what you have to say.  It is immensely frustrating – you have a genuine wish to communicate and your listener is somewhere else in their head and appears uninterested.

And, if you are not a skilled active listener, you have probably committed the crime yourself. Listening to your colleague, you immediately start to form a response.  Your attention is only half on what is being said.

Or, worse, you spot somebody more important, or more urgent (neither of which should really ever apply) and end the conversation before moving off to join the newcomer.

The consequences for poor listening in the workplace are considerable. 

  • Team collaboration falls apart – there is no sense of unity because nobody really listens to the contribution of others.
  • Team development falters, because components of the team do not feel valued.  After all, their sense is that nobody really listens to them
  • Ideas are withheld –a junior member of your team is worth listening to, their ideas can be creative and of value to the business.  It is hard to participate as a team if you are not heard.
  • Confidence is lost – and this is confidence in the unit as a whole, because members do not feel that their ideas are listened to, and the confidence of the individual, as they do not feel valued.

It is not that we actively seek not to listen.  It is just that active listening is something we do need to be trained to do.  There is a difference between hearing, and listening. 

Active listening is the process by which all involved communicate better, and improve mutual understanding of the topic in hand.  It is estimated that only half, and often less, of what we listen to we actually retain.  When we do things, we understand them, when we see them we remember them better, but when we hear, we forget.  Unless we are active listeners.  And the wonderful thing about listening is that we can take in information incredibly quickly; much more so than reading.

The PRISM collaboration toolkit from Wheelhouse Education and Learning is an excellent way you and your team can train yourselves to become active listeners. The PRISM Toolkit provides a simple process for holding peer discussions that can help a business enormously.

Members of your group become a genuine team, all feeling valued and all clear on the direction of a particular objective.  Once the skill of active listening has been acquired, it can be spread to other members of your organisation through peer mentoring, leading to overall better standards of communication, understanding and therefore achievement.

Most of us are born with the ability to hear, but listening is a skill that needs to be taught.