Non-listeners are primarily concerned with doing most of the talking; constantly interrupting the speaker, rarely interested in what the speaker has to say and usually has the last word.
Marginal listeners are at the second level. At this level listening is superficial as they are hearing the sounds and words but not really listening. They tend to focus on the bottom line, the fact, rather than the main ideas. The speaker may believe they are being listened to and understood when in reality they are not at all.
Evaluative listeners actively try to hear what the speaker is saying, but isn’t making an effort to understand the intent. They tend to be more logical listeners, more concerned with content than feelings. The evaluative listeners form opinions about the speakers’ words even before the message is complete and risk not understanding the true meaning of the message.
Active listeners have reached the highest and most effective level of listening ( Hunsaker and Alesandra, 1986; Newkirk and Linden, 1982). Active listening requires to listen not only for the content of the speakers message, but more importantly, for the intent and feeling of the message as well.
Significance of Active Listening
So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it Jiddu Krishnamurti
Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener’s own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker–he or she must simply state what they think the speaker said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener really understood. If the listener did not, the speaker can explain some more.
Active listening has several benefits. First, it forces people to listen attentively to others. Second, it avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they do really understand what another person has said. Third and which is the most important in the coaching practice, it tends to open people up, to get them to say more.
The ability to listen actively demonstrates sincerity, and that nothing is being assumed or taken for granted. Active listening is most often used to improve personal relationships, reduce misunderstanding and conflicts, strengthen cooperation, and foster understanding. It is proactive, accountable and professional.
Active listening requires intense concentration and attention to everything the person is conveying, both verbally and nonverbally. It requires listeners to empty themselves of personal concerns, distractions and preconceptions.
There are many opinions on what is “active listening.” A search of the term reveals interpretations of the “activity” as including “interpreting body language” or focusing on something other than words.
With regards to the coaching field, Active listening involves observing both the client and oneself. Observing the client includes listening to the client’s words, tone, observing their body language and every aspect of interpersonal communications that will help to form the full picture of what they are saying, and what they are not saying. The second part of active listening depends on a self-aware coach who recognizes his or her own filters, thoughts and reactions, one who does not allow those to influence the overall understanding of what the client is saying, and what the client may be thinking, feeling and/or not saying; in this sense, active listening is a way to demonstrate authenticity.
Coaching is about expanding people’s capacity to create the desired future. It is NOT TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO, but ASKING THEM to examine the thinking behind what they’re doing so it is consistent with their goals. Coaching is about giving people the gift of your presence, asking questions, listening Robert Hargrove. Masterful Coaching Field book ©2000 p52
Active Listening Techniques
There are several active listening techniques which assist people in utilizing their listening time to its fullest extent. According to Newkirk and Linden (1982) some of these techniques are: paraphrasing, reflection, neutral technique, clarifying and summarization.
- Paraphrasing: when the listener restate in their own words what the speaker means. This is valuable in testing the understanding of what the speaker means and lets them know they are being actively listened.
- Reflection: is slightly different from paraphrasing; here the listener tells the speaker what they believe their feelings are rather than the content of the message. This is particularly important when the speaker expresses strong feelings.
- Neutral technique: encourages the speaker to continue talking. A simple nod of head or a “uh-huh” are usually effective signals that the listener is interested and listening.
- Clarifying: is the technique used when the listener needs more information of a specific nature. It usually takes the form of a question.
- Summarization: Involves combining the speaker’s thoughts into a concise statement which focuses on the speakers key points. This is particularly valuable in a group discussion where several statements from different people need to be combined.
Skills that Active Listeners Posses
Hunsaker and Alessandra (1986) discuss three additional, very important skills that only active listeners possess. They are sensing, attending and responding.
Sensing is the ability to recognize and appreciate the silent messages that the speaker is sending; that is facial expressions, intonation and body language.