At NRC, we use the technique of “active listening” to get to know our subscribers better and dig a little deeper. We want to understand their needs, frustrations, and expectations. The active listening technique is very suitable to practice on summer evenings, generating a good conversation over a drink and a bite, but it can also be of great value in a professional environment.

Active listening demonstrates interest and understanding.
Active listening demonstrates interest and understanding.

The technique of active listening is described in Thomas Gordon’s effective leadership training from as far back as 1977.

The goal of active — or empathic — listening is to get to understand a person’s emotions and feelings. Through active listening, the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying, and I am not judging you.”

The listener unmistakably conveys this message through words and non-verbal behaviours like body language. In so doing, the listener encourages the speakers to fully express themselves free of interruption, criticism, or being told what to do.

The key thing is to say out loud what you think the other person really meant. It’s looking for the deeper needs behind the words and trying to articulate these. It’s like throwing darts. You will not hit the bullseye every time, but the attempt to understand the other person is always appreciated.

Only when you know about each other’s real needs can you start talking about possible solutions for a certain problem or situation. Needs are often not opposed; it’s the solutions that meet opposition. It is possible to weigh the solutions by defining the extent to which the solution fits the different needs.

When you are practising active listening, it’s important to:

  1. Be willing to let the other parties dominate the discussion.
  2. Be attentive to what is being said.
  3. Be careful not to interrupt.
  4. Use open-ended questions.
  5. Be sensitive to the emotions being expressed.
  6. Reflect back to the other party and the feelings behind what is said.

Some people can have a hard time actively listening. Guessing what another person means can feel like you are admitting the other person is right and you are not. But that is not what it is about. Active listening is about checking whether you understood the other person correctly. It is an act of empathy that makes the other person feel heard.