Young woman listening

As it turns out, there’s a big difference between hearing and listening.  If our auditory system is intact, hearing means our ear drums pick up sound waves and vibrations and turn them into electrical signals to the brain.  This differs from actually listening, which is an important communication skill.  And like all skills, listening requires practice and discipline to master.

Active listening is defined by the “The Business Dictionary” as:

The act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another in a conversation or speech. Active listening is an important communication skill, and it can involve making sounds that indicate attentiveness, as well as giving feedback in the form of a paraphrased rendition of what has been said by the other party for their confirmation.

Unlike hearing, active listening doesn’t just happen. It is mindful, attentive and deliberate.  It uses all our senses and requires energy and focus. An active listener tries to comprehend the message a speaker is conveying, and to respond appropriately. The good news, according to John M. Grohol, Psy.D., is that anyone can become an active listener by employing certain techniques. 

DOs of Active Listening:

Businesswoman listening to her colleague talk

DON’Ts of Active Listening:

Active listening builds rapport and promotes mutual trust and understanding.  It allows us to learn from others, experience different perspectives and connect with people on deeper level.  In doing so, it improves relations in the home, the workplace and the community at large. Just imagine how our society could benefit if everyone practiced the techniques of active listening!


Research shows that although 80 percent of our day is spent communicating, most of that time is spent listening at 25 percent efficiency. This is a huge problem in business situations, because effective listening can bring many advantages and eliminate numerous problems. You can build people’s esteem and your own managerial effectiveness by learning to listen better.

We often listen poorly when we disagree with the opinion being made.  Our preconceptions distract from listening along with sensory stimuli and bodily states — hunger, exhaustion, lack of physical comfort, health issues, too hot or too cold. Mental distractions — an argument we had, or an unresolved problem along with external noises — running motor, noisy air conditioner, voices and telephone can also contribute to poor listening.

Good listening reduces wasted time and energy, which translates into increased productivity. And it is even good for one’s physical health — blood pressure rises when the person speaks, decreases when they listen. Make an effort each day to listen more not only with open ears, but with an open mind.