Management Matters: You CAN Learn to be a Better Listener

When bringing up the topic of active listening, some people simply stop listening! Effective active listening is not just one of the key pieces of effective communication - it is a habit that many professionals don’t employ as well as they could.

Genuine active listening means that you are intentionally focused on who you are listening to, whether in a group or one-on-one, in order to understand what the person is saying. In your role as listener, you should be able to paraphrase in your own words what the speaker has said to their satisfaction, which would indicate that you clearly understand what they are saying.

Many things will impact your ability to listen well:

The Subject Matter: Do you find the topic or message interesting? Is it overly technical or complicated? Is it important to you?

The Speaker: Are they comfortable with talking? Are they nervous? Are there a lot of non-verbal cues? What is the speaker’s frame of mind? Are they interesting to you? Do you think they know what they are talking about?

The Message: Is it all verbal? Are there any visuals or examples? Is technology being used effectively? Are concepts being introduced in developmental stages? Do transitions make sense? Does the verbal message (the words they use) match the visual message (how they look) and the vocal message how they sound)?

The Place: Is the location (your AND theirs) conducive to listening? Is there an opportunity to interact, exchange ideas, or ask questions of the speaker? Are there distractions?

To improve your skills and enhance the listening opportunity:

  • Focus your attention on the speaker and stop all non-relevant activities beforehand to orient yourself to the speaker or the topic.
  • Think about what you already know about the topic.
  • Avoid distractions and try to seat yourself so they do not interfere with your ability to listen.
  • Steer clear of windows, additional screens ambient noise, or side conversations.
  • Try to suspend or acknowledge emotions (or emotional reactions) until later

Make every attempt to put aside prejudices and opinions that you may have about the topic or the speaker. Your focus is on learning what the speaker has to say.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management consulting practice that specializes in developing people in the areas of leadership and management, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 30 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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