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How to Practice Active Listening in the Workplace

Do you know the difference between active and passive listening? Passive listening is when the listener is more focused on their internal monologue or the speaker's literal words instead of what they're really saying. Active listening consists of a certain level of engagement, acknowledgment, and ultimately a deeper level of understanding. It plays a vital role in workplace communications, productivity, and relationships and while it comes easily to some, others must make a more conscious effort. There's always room for improvement when it comes to communication and this skill can serve employers and employees well in all parts of their lives. If you're lacking active listening skills, now is the time to learn!

Benefits of Active Listening

Does active listening really matter? Yes, it does! It is your key to success no matter what industry you're in. Active listening:

  • Minimizes Misunderstandings. Every brain functions differently, and while the variances can be fascinating, they can also be inconvenient in the workplace. Even if you think you're listening, you may be taking the conversation too literally or be operating in a completely different context. Active listening helps you connect with the speaker on a different level and can minimize misunderstandings.
  • Increases Productivity. You don't want to waste time having to re-discuss topics that have already been covered in-depth or fixing a mistake that could have been avoided. Active listening makes goals clearer for all involved thus increasing productivity significantly.
  • Builds Trust with Co-Workers. Relationships are two-way streets, and listening is a very important part of that. When you actively listen to your co-workers it creates trust and deepens your working relationship.

How to Practice Active Listening

Utilize Body Language

Body language is an understated part of communication. If your body language doesn't reflect your intentions, thought process, etc., your co-workers could misunderstand the underlying meaning of your discussion. To show that you're actively listening, you should maintain eye contact, show signs that you're listening, and actively engage with your co-worker.


It's important to acknowledge that everyone's brain works differently and take active steps to bridge that gap. After someone finishes discussing an idea, goal, or task with you, clarify that you are on the same page by paraphrasing everything that was said. This allows you to make sure you fully understand them and gives your co-worker the chance to make corrections if there was a misunderstanding 

Get Out of Your Head and Don't Interrupt

​Interruptions are a telltale sign of a passive listener, as they often get caught up in their heads and aren't fully aware of the conversation going on around them. They get too busy thinking about what they're going to say next and often jump the gun resulting in interruptions. Not only are interruptions rude, but they also inhibit productivity.

Don't Take Perfect Notes

Instead of writing everything word-for-word, jot down keywords and phrases while focusing most of your attention on listening to the underlying meaning of what is being said. Take notes on the main points being discussed. You can even use those notes to help you paraphrase!

Allow Silence and Formulate a Response

Once your employee or co-worker has finished speaking, don't be afraid to allow some silence so you can absorb the information they just gave you. After you've had a moment to fully comprehend the information, you will be able to better respond to any questions or statements.

Don't Change the Subject Too Quickly

If you change the subject too quickly, you likely haven't had the opportunity to complete any of the above recommendations. If silence is golden then you shouldn't be afraid of it! Make sure you have a good understanding of the previous subject before you move on to the next.

Ask Questions

If you don't understand something, don't brush it off and try to understand it later. Maybe jot down a quick note about what you didn't understand and then allow the speaker to finish talking. After he/she is finished talking, ask any questions you may have and make sure you fully understand everything that was said. There is something to be said for knowing what you don't know and taking action.

Don't forget, it's never too late to become a better listener!

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