• Angelo Ponzi

Active Listening: Do You Listen to Reply or to Understand?

Think about the last interaction you had. Maybe it was a meeting with a client, a call with a prospect, or even just your nightly dinnertime banter with your spouse and/or kids.

Regardless, I want you to stop and reflect on this singular question: were you really listening?

Were you truly paying attention, or were you waiting to grab the mic and interject your own thoughts and opinions, before even processing what was shared?

While the word “conversation” is tossed around lightly, most conversations are merely people unconsciously talking at each other, rather than conversing with each other. This, in a nutshell, is the difference between active listening and passive listening.

Active listening is an essential soft skill in every aspect of life. The absence of this aspect of communication is detrimental across the board, no matter where it shows up in our lives. The cost of not listening effectively is clear, resulting in careless mistakes at work, family issues, lost relationships… you name it. The cost of not listening effectively in business? Your customers and prospects.

Listening to understand (not to reply)

There are so many components that comprise active listening, but as Stephen Covey so eloquently summed it all up in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply.”

While the majority of people listen to reply, active listening means listening to understand. It means paying attention without being preoccupied by what to say next. Active listening means fully listening, which can be demonstrated by the following:

  • Not interrupting. Refrain from interjection (no matter how tempting). Wait until the speaker is finished sharing before you offer your two cents. Take a moment to process what the person you are conversing with has to say. This demonstrates that you are listening to understand, not simply reply.

  • Taking your time. Slow the conversation down and reflect on what the speaker has said. Dig into the details, connect the dots, look at the bigger picture, and ask meaningful questions where applicable.

  • Showing empathy. If the person you are talking to shares something vulnerable, or even just mentions a difficult situation, express true, genuine concern. Validate their experiences, and connect to them on a human level.

  • Prioritizing balance. Conversations should be an experience of give and take, and there should be a sense of equality and mutual respect throughout. If you find that one person in the interaction is doing all of the talking and the other is doing all of the listening, check in with yourself. Identify whether you need to create space for the other person to be heard.

Why is active listening important in business?

In past articles, I’ve highlighted the importance of knowing your customer’s pain-point. But there is more to it than just approaching people with what you know (or think you know). Responding to your target audience’s problem effectively means actively listening to them on a consistent basis. Truly building a relationship with your clients and prospects means delving into the nature of their situation, not just assuming you understand it from some data points and initial interactions. To truly resonate, you must show your clientele that you truly hear their pain-point as you engage with them.