Interactive Listening: The Key to Effective Communication (Part Two)

Interactive Listening: The Key to Effective Communication (Part Two)

This article is part of a series on Communication > A Spectator or Contact Sport?

In part one of Interactive Listening the points covered were:

  1. Effective Listening does not come naturally to most people, it’s a learned skill.
  2. Listening becomes effective when you focus on both the content and the context of the message.
  3. This means responding appropriately by clarifying and/or confirming your understanding and even progressing with a question to show interest.

Part Two will mainly deal with normal ineffective listening tendencies and the techniques you can practice to appreciably increase your listening effectiveness.

Experience has shown that most people do not listen to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Usually when another person is speaking, they are busy thinking about what they will say next and it generally is all about them, not the speaker. Make a point to prove or disprove this observation to yourself by being a close observer. 

When someone speaks, more often than not, people respond in one of four ways:

  • Immediately judge…”it’s wrong, not true, disagree.”
  • Want to solve the problem for you…”you should…”
  • Resort to blaming the speaker for their dilemma.
  • Critique, take the side of the wounded person. 

These responses, while they may have different intentions, all serve to isolate the person who is trying to share their experience with us. Given this they will quickly shut down, realizing that the listener is emotionally ‘off side’ and not tuned into what they need – to simply be heard and understood.

A golden opportunity to connect effectively, work through a challenge and build goodwill, will be lost.

In addition to connecting with another person, Interactive Listening also helps the other person to find a solution for their concern. As the listener reflects feelings that they hear, the speaker is able to clarify their feelings as well. This sets up an atmosphere of empowerment for them to make good decisions and find their own solution as they continue sharing.

Note: A successful solution must always come from the person himself or herself and not be imported from an overly enthusiastic listener.

Remember, as the listener, your position is to be focused, attending solely to the other person’s concerns and not imposing your thoughts on the situation. Instead of adding your ideas, focus on becoming a clearinghouse for the other person’s emotional debris.

Even though you may have many thoughts about what is being said, you must discipline yourself to suspend them in the interest of really hearing and understanding the other person. The benefit? This allows the other person to clarify his or her own thoughts, and arrive at a solution much more quickly and effectively than before.

When trying to understand another person and their feelings, note that there are four basic feelings that may play a factor in the response: 

  • Mad
  • Sad
  • Glad and
  • Scared 

There are many variations and gradations of each of these feeling categories. Become more aware which emotion you are experiencing and don’t over react.


  1. Preoccupation with your own thoughts.2.Thinking of what you will say next.
  2. Lack of interest in either the speaker or the subject.
  3. Making assumptions or drawing conclusions that you know that person is going to say, before they are finished speaking.
  4. Interrupting speaker in mid sentence.
  5. Distractions…noise, movement, other people.

Consider this Six-Pack of principles in elevating your own essential listening skills: 

  1. It is critical that the listener suspend immediate judgement.
  2. Focus solely on the speaker’s message and suspend your own reflection.
  3. Listen to understand by clarifying and confirming.
  4. Paraphrase back to assure clarity.
  5. The listener should use the gap between the rate of speech – which is much slower than the rate of thought to reflect upon the content and search for meaning.
  6. The listener should be ready to respond only when the speaker has indicated they are finished speaking.

Becoming more proficient at effective listening will add another dimension to your ability to build and maintain strong relationships at home and at work and others will enjoy being around you.

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