Active Listening: The Meaning Behind the Message

people in negotiation

How we listen has a measurable effect on the quality of information the other person expresses. In Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® he explains that most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. Effective listening requires actively participating in the communication process by being fully present, paying close attention to the speaker, and comprehending what they’re saying by responding to and reflecting on what’s being said.

In my professional life, I must rely on my active listening skills, as a large portion of Ideba’s research involves conducting customer interviews and gathering narrative, opinion-based feedback which is subsequently analyzed and turned into actionable insights. Collecting qualitative descriptive data requires a more human element and strong interpersonal skills, such as active listening, which helps to increase the length and depth of interviewee responses.

Active listening can nurture growth and understanding in any relationship, professional or personal, and currently, my listening skills are being put to the test as I raise two teenagers. In terms of life stages and opposing ideologies, I’m learning that the parent-teen dynamic constitutes one of the most significant communication breakdowns. Too frequently, parents talk “over” their teens judging what they’re saying and thinking “that’s right” or “that’s wrong” and when kids respond with their own arguments, the conversation quickly escalates resulting in an unresolved impasse.

Being an active listener entails understanding that the conversation is about the other person rather than about ourselves. Self-awareness is critical for avoiding the temptation to filter everything we hear through the lens of our own life experiences. Listening in a nonjudgmental manner encourages information sharing while helping the speaker feel heard and respected, which is something that most people, especially teenagers, fundamentally seek.  

Every day our professional and personal lives place different demands upon us. This paradigm of balance and connection is supported by meaningful relationships, highlighting the value and importance of not only how we listen, but why we listen.

Tamara Clarke – Research and Consulting Manager