What Is Active Listening?

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Coaching Tips Series | 0 comments

I recently found myself telling a group of really senior leaders that my job as trainer/facilitator is basically getting adults to learn to talk to each other.

And it’s an incredible oversimplification of what I do as a facilitator, but when you really look at it, that’s the bottom line.

How can this be a job? you may wonder. I’ve wondered it too.

However, our ability to be inside our own heads and not actually listen to the other person is mighty, and universal. Our primary mode of listening is to listen to the our own thoughts.

I’m waiting my turn so I can say xyz…

this is how I feel, why won’t they listen?


But what about the words that the other person said? Well, we just interpret those based on our own biases, past experience, and current mood.

I know for sure that I didn’t consistently start listening to what other people were actually saying until I learned the 3 levels of listening in my coach training.

When I look back at the past I see so many missed opportunities and misunderstandings, just because I wasn’t listening to them.

And why is that?

A few reasons. Because we are all trained to

  • think for ourselves – so we focus on our own thoughts
  • come prepared – so we always turn up with our own things to say. We don’t turn up to meetings to listen and learn, we turn up to show and tell.
  • focus on ourselves first. Basically everything in our lives is focused on the individual.

So when do we every think to truly listen to others? And if we aren’t listening, then we aren’t having real conversations with each other.

Listening is fundamental to communication. So here’s a quick explanation of what Active Listening actually is.

Active Listening

Is when all your attention is on the other person.

What are they saying, what do they think about it? What matters?

Listen beyond the story and the details.

Listen to understand, not respond.

So you’ll find yourself asking Powerful Questions (open questions) to better understand what the other person is saying, and why they are saying it.

It’s simple in theory, but harder in practice. You’ll find yourself drifting back into your own mind all the time. Don’t worry. With practice, it becomes really easy to switch between listening to the other person, and listening to your own thoughts.

If You Fancy It, Here’s A Practical Exercise:

For one week, when people are talking, listen for their values. Listening beyond the words to the meaning behind them, and what you hear is important to them in life.

You don’t have to be right, just listen.

And you can always check with them if the values you heard are actually their values. (it will make them feel seen and heard if you do).

So yeah, my role as facilitator is basically helping adults talk to each other. Yet it’s incredibly hard because, well, people. And intensely satisfying because, well, people are wonderful.

This post is part of my special Coaching Tips Series. This series was inspired by my clients and the core themes in their challenges. When we can apply these tips, we bring a lot of ease into our lives and step into our leadership. Want to talk it through with me? Call me and let’s make a Game Plan together.

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