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Ability to listen is one of the most powerful ingredients for the effectiveness of any relationship.

  • How often do you finish the meeting without understanding what it was about, what have you been talking about for 2 hours and why you have made no progress?

  • How often do you postpone your projects and do not align with the GANTT chart?

  • How often you do not know how to react when someone starts to raise his or her voice?

  • How often does your team not understand exactly what you want them to do?

  • What is the right way to speak with a boss?

What should we do in such situations? Are they related to the ability to listen? It is rare to find a person who is capable not only of hearing but also of listening. The interesting thing is, we all think we can listen and hear, but this is not true. Our inner voice on the subconscious level does not give us an opportunity to listen to what was said for a hundred percent. For many people the effectiveness of listening is only 25%. That means losing 3/4 of the information that was heard. What are the four levels of listening? The first level is Direct, critical listening (most people can use only this level). In this type of listening, a listener, joining the conversation, firstly takes a critical look at the information: he determines how truthful, reliable or believable it is, and only after that he understands whether he agrees with it or wants to understand and respond. All the information is filtered by the listener’s worldview. The second level is Empathic Listening. Empathy (in English it means sympathy, ability to put yourself in another person’s position) is a person’s ability to respond emotionally to experiences and feelings of other people. In empathic listening, a participant of the communication pays more attention to feelings rather than words for the purpose of understanding how the speaker feels about what he says. The third level is Non-reflective listening. This type of listening is characterized by minimal interference with the speaker’s words with maximum concentration on them. The ability to be silent attentively without interfering the speech with remarks facilitates the listener’s self-expression process and helps him to understand the meaning of transmitted information better, to find out what lies behind the words. An important signal of such listening is a non-verbal response, i.e. eye contact, nodding or shaking head, etc. Sometimes in communication you have to listen to a person who is in a state of emotional affect or strong emotional arousal (for example, in a conflict). It is precisely in this case that non-reflective listening techniques work. In such a situation, the speaker does not seem to be a person in the literal sense of the word, he is just an identity who does not control his emotions or has a “fixation” on something. First of all, he needs to calm down and come to a normal state of self-control — communication can be continued only after that. In such cases, it is important just to listen to the person, letting him know that he is not alone, that you understand him and are ready to support. Experts believe that the emotional state of a person is like a pendulum: when reaching the highest point of emotional intensity, a person begins to “descend”, to calm down. Then the strength of his feelings increases, but reaching the highest point, it falls again, etc. It often happens in stressful situations, for example, close to deadlines, or when your request wasn’t accepted a number of times, or when one person is comfortable with something, which is normal in his worldview, and somebody else finds this unacceptable. After speaking out, a person will calm down and be able to communicate normally. At the same time, his listener should not be silent either. A reaction like “yes, yes”, “of course”, “I agree”, or just a nod works best. Sometimes, in such cases it is useful to “adjust” by your eyes, to behave like the speaker: repeat his words and emotions, reflect his gestures and facial expressions. But if you cannot do it naturally, it is better not to repeat, since the inauthentic way of being or speaking will evaluate the speaker’s actions as a mockery of his feelings. A negative reaction in non-reflective listening should not be used. You should also not ask clarifying questions or say: “Calm down, do not worry, everything will be settled”. This can cause an explosion of indignation or frustration. The interlocutor in this state cannot understand these words adequately, they resent him, he feels like his problem is underestimated, like he is misunderstood. If the speaker’s emotions are directed at you, the main job is not to get infected with them, not to fall into the same state of anger that can lead to a violent conflict or even to a fight. “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” — Mark Twain The fourth level is Active reflective listening. Type of listening which involves reflection of information is called active reflective listening. Reflective listening involves analysis of the information received in the process of listening, and instant response to it with questions or replies. This type of communication is considered the most constructive. Such an organization of interaction is carried out and the partners understand each other better: they express themselves more meaningfully, check and clarify their understanding of information and also their degree of mutual understanding. The most common techniques that characterize active listening are constant clarification of the correct understanding of the information by asking the interlocutor questions like “Did I understand correctly that…?” and paraphrases “So, you want to say …” or “In other words, you meant …” Using such simple communication techniques, you can achieve two goals at once:

  1. Adequate feedback is provided, which allows you to eliminate obstacles and distortion of information, to demonstrate empathy, sympathy, and desire to help. There is assurance of correct understanding of the information transmitted by the interlocutor.

  2. Indirectly, the interlocutor is informed that he is facing an equal partner for conversation and cooperation.

Taking an equal partner position means that both interlocutors are responsible for every word they say. This goal is achieved as a rule faster than the first, especially in those cases when you are dealing with an authoritative tough interlocutor, who is accustomed to communication from “on a pedestal” position. Using active listening skills will greatly help those who are in the position of “victim”. In this way, the victim will not only knock down the authoritative interlocutor from his usual position, but will also raise to the equal level of conversation with a partner and make it possible to focus on the essential moments of the conversation instead of his own experiences and fears. Some people, who are afraid to speak out directly and openly for the reason of being misunderstood, seeming funny, stupid or strange, facing condemnation or disapproval, prefer to maneuver words, to heap them up, to hide true motives of their speech and create incredible difficulties for the listener. Many people prefer to talk about the most important information for them only when they are sure that they will be heard, understood and not judged. In order to ensure understanding, the listener, using verbal and non-verbal means of communication, should let the speaker know what exactly is perceived and what is distorted, so that he could correct his message and make it more understandable. It is this exchange of direct and feedback signals that constitutes the process of active reflective listening. Share your thoughts on what you’ve discovered and start to develop yourself:











Be attentive and responsible for your words. Focus your attention purposefully on the advantages of another individual, and reengage your mind in the positive aspects of that person. It will enrich the lives of people with whom you interact and work, and will also bring results to all of your relationships.

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