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Begin Active Listening Today


My name is Amy Dickens. And today I'm here to speak to you about active listening. So, a little bit about myself first before we begin. For those of you who don't know me, I didn't start my career post-my education in tech. I actually started out as a musician. And after that, I got quite interested in the tech side of being a musician. Studied to become an audio engineer. Interestingly, this led me to then become a computer scientist. I took on a Ph.D. in accessible digital musical instruments. And during the time that I was doing this Ph.D. research, I found myself being advocate for underrepresented groups in the technology industry. And that kind of has led me to the job that I have now which is as an accessibility consultant.

So, yes. A little bit about me. But enough about me. Because we've not got much time tonight. We're gonna talk about active listening tonight. So, firstly, we're gonna cover what actually is active listening? How can we benefit from this in our lives and our careers? And then how can you actually start using active listening techniques today? So, hopefully after the end of this talk, those are some of the things that you'll be coming away with.

So, first, and foremost, what is active listening? Well, I kind of like to think of it as listening plus one. It's leveling up on what you are currently doing when you listen to a colleague, friend, or family member talk about their day. It's a practice where we make the conscious effort to hear not only what another person is saying, but more importantly, hear the complete message that's being communicated by them. And this does mean paying undivided attention to the speaker. Including their non-verbal communications.

We'll go through the full technique shortly. But let's consider first why we listen.

So, why do we listen to anything? Well, I guess we listen to get information. We also listen to understand a situation or another person's point of view. We listen for pleasure and enjoyment. Podcasts are an ever-popular form of entertainment now. And we also listen to learn. Like I'm hoping that you're intently listening to me now because you want to learn more about active listening.

But what are the barriers to listening to 100% of what's being said? Well, first, there's a concept called rehearsing. This is where you as the listener are more focused on preparing your response to what's being said than listening to it. Second, we have the concept of filtering. Where you only listen to the things that you're expecting to hear or want to hear whilst tuning out some of the other things that is being said. Third on the barriers list is a concept called advising. Where we tend to focus on problem solving and often this leads us to feeling a pressure of fixing what's being said in the conference and then listening to it in full. And sometimes we also face other things like environmental distractions. I have ADHD myself. So, I know that anything from a pigeon landing outside the window here to a noise in the room can distract me from listening to something 100%.

In fact, a conference I attended had these metal clips on the lanyards. And every time someone just moved slightly in their seat, it sounded like sleigh bells. It was almost impossible for me to listen to 100% of everything that was happening in a talk with all that happening around me.

So, the other things that we might face is some situational challenges. Something like, I'm super-hungry right now. Or I'm just really tired. Or maybe there's something in the content of the talk that was triggering for you. And that means that you have kind of emotionally shellshocked from listening to what's being said. And another barrier that is a concept of shift response. And this is a -- this is a form of conversational narcissism. It's where we focus our attention on our position within the conversation. This is the I tendency. Where we often turn the conversation topic to ourselves. And not only does this suggest an uninterest in the others in the conversation, it actually stops us from really listening to other people's point of view. It's not a great place to be. I think we would all agree. But I guess at some point, we have all been guilty of doing this.

And finally, we have the non-verbal communication. Which is more of a perceptual barrier to listening than an actual one. Up to 93% of people's attitudes are formed from the non-verbal cues given by a speaker. But sometimes these non-verbal cues themselves can cause confusion. And especially if we're busy overthinking what was meant by a certain gesture, we might not be listening to 100% of what's being said. So, that can mean quite a lot of what we're hearing is kind of masked by what we're seeing.

And now, these barriers can mean that we are unable to listen to much -- unable to listen to 100% of the conversation. In fact, much, much less. But research shows that we only remember between 25 and 50% of what we hear. Which potentially means that when we talk to somebody for 10 minutes, both parties are only paying attention to less than half the conversation. And I guess you just have to hope that you got the key points and the important information.

So, active listening is a practice that can help us to be more conscious and present in our conversations with others. And as a result, we can hear more of what's being said. So, what are the skills of active listening that can help us to hear more? Firstly, we need to consider focus. Looking directly at speaker, even making eye contact if the situation allows it. Now, I know that's all hard when we're all working online and remotely and asynchronously sometimes. But if we can connect with somebody or try and look directly at the speaker, that's what we should be trying to do. Especially in in-person situations. We can also observe body language and show signs that we're engaged back to the speaker. We can do this with minimal encouragers. Nodding our head, minimal verbal conversations like, yep. I hear that. Second thing we need to do in active listening is we need to hold back on our judgment. So, we should avoid interrupting with our own take on things. Give the speaker the time to finish their points and try to avoid distracting yourself with forming the counterargument to them.

We just really need to be open to new perspectives. Especially when you're practicing active listening. Third, we need to take opportunities to reflect the conversation back to the speaker. Don't assume that you've heard everything correctly or even that the speaker knows that you've heard and understood them. When you repeat some facts back or important details back to somebody that you're speaking to, it sends a clear message that you are hearing everything that they're saying to you. For example, if I was having a conversation with Joe about a conversation he with a Naomi, I might say, so, then what happened after you called Naomi back? And that shows that I'm aware of what's happening in the conversation. I'm paying attention to what point we're at. And I'm also interested in what's gonna happen next. And reflecting back what he said to me.

Fourth in the active listening playbook is to clarify your understanding through asking questions. Now, our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role entirely is to understand what's being said. And that might require you to ask questions. And there's no harm in asking for clarity. Especially if something isn't clear. So, just saying, what did you mean when you said that? In active listening, it's very much a focus of asking rather than telling. This invites a thoughtful response and maintains a feeling of collaboration in your conversations.

And the fifth and final skill here is summarizing. So, re-stating the key themes of the conversation can solidify your understanding of the other person's point of view. And it can also help both of you in the conversation or how many people there are be really clear on the mutual responsibilities and follow-up actions that need to be taken afterwards. And this can really help increase accountability.

So, when you're practicing active listening throughout the conversation, you can think of yourself kind of as a mirror. Reflect back to then what you're taking -- that you're taking in the words that somebody else is saying to you and as seriously as they are. And try not to focus on what your response might be to change that.

But how can active listening actually help you in your day-to-day work? Well, for starters, active listening can help us to be more productive. When we understand quicker, we can get to work faster, spend less time clarifying instruction or remembering what was said in that meeting last week. We can also become more influential through connecting with speakers better than before and holding on to more information to persuade others or used in negotiations. My other thing is that active listening can help us avoid conflict and misunderstandings just by checking for that clarity and reflecting what we heard back to others. Additionally, in leadership management positions, active listening is -- when the leader is engaging in active listening, it shows empathy for others and fosters psychological safety. Now, that's been recognized since active listening was first introduced in 1987, Carl Rogers and Richard Farson who coined the term "Active Listening." People who have been listened to in the special way are more emotionally mature, more open to experiences, more democratic, and less authoritarian. Okay. What can you do to personally improve your listening skills?

First, understand your own communication style. This can really help you acknowledge any biases or personal barriers you have to active listening. For example, I know I can focus best if I'm only in the meeting call window or in an in-person meeting, without the phone. I take physical notes rather than digital ones because any technology opens an opportunity for distraction for me personally.

Speaking of this, you can also limit interruptions -- potential interruptions -- to conversations by silencing any technology and notifications and moving away from distractions so you can pay full attention to the speaker. If you're find for hard to not interrupt with your own take, take note of the person's tone of voice and body long and that will show you where there's an opportunity to speak. And help prevent you from jumping in with your own thoughts as they happen.

Like we said before, focus on the now and not what you're preparing to say. If you really struggle with this, set yourself a goal of being able to repeat the last sentence that the other person set. That keeps you focused on every word that they're saying, mentally repeating it back to yourself, and keeps your attention there on the statement and helps you to understand the sentiment better and really hear what the other person is saying.

You can also follow the eighty-twenty rule. Aim to do 80% of the listening and 20% of the talk. This is really important to create an inclusive conversation where each speaker feels heard and understood. You can encourage people in conversations to offer ideas and solutions before you give yours. If you want to be really inclusive. Focus on the underrepresented folks in the room and notice who is not given the opportunities to speak as much.

And if you find yourself emotionally reacting to what somebody has said, just say so. And remember the core tenant of clarification. Ask for more information in a non-defensive way. So, you can say something like, I may not be understanding you correctly. And I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is this. Is that actually what you meant?

Just double check before you come with the emotional response. And finally, know that pauses can be powerful. I struggle with this especially in situations with new people. I'll always, always try to fill silences or pauses in the conversation. But just try to embrace silence. You don't always have to reply or comment. And sometimes the break in conversation can be really helpful to everyone just to allow time for collecting thoughts and considering where to take the discussion next.

Now, I did put time for questions here. But I think because we're running behind, I'll just say, thank you for listening.