Active Listening – Hearing what people are really saying

Active Listening – Hearing what people are really saying

In our house, listening is the number one point of contention currently. It seems that our 5 year old son is able to turn his hearing on and off like a switch. I know that it’s just his age but it is infuriating the number of times one kid can be asked to do something before he actually acknowledges it. Ask him, however, if he would like a sweet, and it seems he is all ears!

Perhaps the parents of you reading this will sympathise?

The sad thing here is that although our boy doesn’t take in what he’s being told, neither do many of the rest of us.

When I left accountancy to embark on a career in recruitment consultancy, the first thing I was taught was to listen. You’ve probably heard the old quote “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion”.

I thought I could listen. Unlike my son, I used the skill daily. Or, I thought I did. The truth is that I wasn’t really hearing everything said to me, and in truth, the majority of us only really take in between 25% and 50% of what we hear.  That is a frightening statistic.

Listening is a major part of any sales/business process. We use listening to gain understanding, to obtain information, and to learn. If the important parts of a conversation are in that 25% to 50%, all well and good, but if they are not we are in trouble.

Being a better listener will do a number of fantastic things for you. It will benefit you in improved productivity, influence, persuasion and negotiation. You will avoid more misunderstanding, and improve rapport and communication.

Active Listening

To enhance your listening skills, you need to practice ‘active listening’. This is when you make a conscious effort to listen to not only the words being said, but the meaning behind them. This takes a lot of effort on your part.

You need to remain very focused on what the other person is saying. You need to ignore what is going on around you, as well as forming counter arguments in your own mind while they speak. The moment you stop concentrating fully on the other person, you are no longer actively listening.

Top 5 tips for actively listening

Here are my top 5 tips for practicing active listening. If you are doing this well in a meeting, you will be amazed how much more tired you are than normal at the end of it!

1. Pay complete attention

You need to give the person speaking your undivided attention, and continue to acknowledge what they are saying. Look for all non-verbal communication as well as the words said.

2. Show that you are listening

Your own body language is very powerful in conveying your attention. Nodding, smiling occasionally, noting your posture are all important and easy things to practice.

3. Give feedback to the person speaking

Our job as a listener is to clearly understand what is being said. One very easy way to do this is to occasionally check your understanding. Asking questions and reflecting back to the speaker are simple ways to do this. Ask questions like “what do you mean when you say….” Or reflect by saying “sounds like what you are saying is…”

Summarise your understanding for them, and get them to correct you if necessary.

4. Don’t interrupt

Interrupting is not only rude, but it wastes time and risks frustrating the person speaking to you. It may limit the conversation, and hence limit the message you are given.

5. Make only appropriate responses

Active listening requires respect and understanding. You add nothing to the conversation by countering inappropriately, or attacking a point of view.

You should be open and honest in your responses, and respectful in your opinions.

Putting these points into practice takes a lot more work than you would expect. It takes concentration and determination.

If you practice active listening, and continue to remind yourself that this is what you are doing, not only will your understanding of your clients and prospects improve, but so too will your conversion rates. You’ll be a better communicator and build better relationships.

It really is amazing how much you don’t hear.

Contact me

For more on developing yourself, your staff and improving the profitability of your business, please do get in touch. You can email me at, use the contact page on my website or call me on 07736 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathanxp, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.

I look forward to speaking soon.



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