Active Listening: How to Communicate Consciously


What is Active Listening and how can it benefit our professional as well as personal conversations?

Ever anticipate your turn to speak during conversation instead of truly listening to the other person before responding?  Me too.  So, what is Active Listening and how can it benefit our professional communication skills as well as personal conversations?

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium, “Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker.”  An exercise we use to explore the concept of Active Listening we call, “Segue Sparks.”  Participants pair off and the first person begins speaking about any subject they wish; what they had for breakfast that morning, something experienced on their daily commute, plans for an upcoming trip.  Their partner is instructed to interrupt, overtake the conversation, and change the topic when they hear a word that sparks the memory of a story of their own.  

Each time we finish this exercise we have participants share their experience.  Without fail we receive a version of the following: “I felt rude interrupting and uncomfortable abruptly changing the topic of conversation.”  The reason we like this exercise so much is because it illustrates how we are innately hard-wired to listen intently to one another.

So how can we employ Active Listening on a consistent basis?

Approach each important conversation with the notion of what you might come to understand about the other person,  You’ll notice I said “understand” instead of “learn”. When we engage in conversation with this spirit of openness it encourages the speaker to share their thoughts and desires in greater detail.  This in turn encourages a more thoughtful exchange of ideas.

Once you’ve embraced the practice of truly listening to what the other person is saying, bring your awareness to how it informs your response. You may find yourself responding with a question instead of redirecting the conversation back to yourself and offering your own opinion or experience.

It’s been said that the platinum rule of listening is to listen to others as they want to be heard.  This is not to suggest that you have to agree with what the other person is saying but instead encourages engaging in an engage in an exchange of ideas in a way that is attuned to the speaker’s feelings so that both parties stand to come away from the exchange having truly listened and having truly been heard.