Key Active Listening Skills

Once the situation has been talked through in this way (active listening), both of you will have a good picture of where things stand. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem-solving. What hasn’t been tried? What don’t we know? What new approaches could be taken?

1. Be attentive.

Convey a positive attitude toward the speaker and a willingness to talk through the situation. If timing is a problem, let the other person know you are interested in what they have to say and commit for a time for the two of you to have a focused conversation.

2. Ask open-ended questions

Open-end questions encourage the speaker to do the work of self-reflection and problem solving, rather than just justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the ‘right answer’ or say what you want to hear. Examples include: “What do you think about…?” or “Tell me about…?” and “Could you further explain or describe…?”.

3. Ask probing questions

Again, the emphasis is on asking, rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration. Use probing questions like, “ What are some of the specific steps you took to resolve this issue?” or “How certain are you that you have a full picture of what is going on?” or even something like, “Does Emma agree that there are performance issues?”.

4. Request clarifications

Double-check any issues that are ambiguous or unclear to you. If you have doubt or confusion about what the speaker has said, say something like, “Let me see I am clear. Are you talking about… ?” or “Wait a minute. Try that again. I didn’t follow you,” if you have any doubt or confusion about what was said.

5. Paraphrase

Recap what was just said periodically. Don’t assume that you understand correctly, or that the speaker knows you’ve heard. Paraphrasing works both ways. Ask your employee or colleague to paraphrase your response to make sure he or she understood what you said. Paraphrasing has a way of clarifying communication by removing doubt about what was meant and said.

6. Be attuned to and reflect feelings

With active listening, you will be able to identify the feeling message that accompanies the content. Looking at how we communicate (verbal, vocal and visual cues) is an effective way to make sure you understand what the speaker is trying to say. This becomes even more important when the topic brings emotions from the speaker or when they feel intimidated by your authority over them.

7. Summarize

Give a brief restatement of core themes raised by the speaker: “Let me summarize to check that I understand correctly. ... Did I get that right?”

Copyright note: Some content borrowed from the Center for Creative Leadership.