What is Active Listening? Definition, Skills, and Examples

Published: February 8, 2024 | Last Updated: May 13, 2024by Jeremy Pollack

Conflicts are a natural part of human existence, which can become detrimental to business operations if left unresolved. Active listening is the communication skill that stands between you and a peaceful workplace.

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing the words spoken by another person. It also involves seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind the words and becoming an active participant in the conversation.

So, how can your employees employ active listening skills? Anyone can learn how to become a better listener to allow their workplace teams to enjoy peaceful, healthy co-worker relationships and limited interpersonal conflicts.

This is precisely the service Pollack Peacebuilding offers to businesses like yours. We specialize in creating and conducting instructor-led conflict management training workshops and seminars, catering to employees across all hierarchies. Our programs include managers and executives, ensuring that your entire organization is quickly equipped to become skilled in active listening.

Our de-escalation workshops can take place online through videos, in-person, or live, and emphasize active listening techniques such as body language and eye contact.

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is a communication skill that makes one an active participant in two-way communication. Becoming an active listener involves being attentive to what the person speaking is saying, meaning, and feeling without interruption, imposing, or judging.

What you are essentially trying to achieve through active listening skills is understanding other people’s perspectives, emotions, and needs enough to build rapport and trust.

You can become a better listener by using verbal and non-verbal cues to show the other person that you are listening, such as paraphrasing, smiling, nodding, and asking open-ended questions. An active listening technique is the key to effective communication, which also makes it relevant in improving interpersonal relationships and resolving conflicts.

What is the link between active listening skills and conflict resolution? It is undeniable that active listening is the fastest way to resolve conflicts for various reasons. In general, active listening allows conflicting individuals or groups to avoid misunderstanding, clarify issues, find common ground, and acknowledge feelings.

Here are a few other reasons why active listening skills are important in conflict resolution.

Active Listening Means Respect

When you actively listen to another person, you are showing them respect and telling them that you value their point of view. You don’t have to agree with what the person is saying, but you are showing them that their opinion matters.

If the topic of discussion is sensitive, you will reduce the person’s defensiveness, hostility, and blame by listening to what they have to say.

Active Listening Creates a Positive Atmosphere

Active listening skills also play a critical role in conflict resolution because they create a positive and constructive atmosphere suitable for resolving any differences between two individuals or groups. When you improve active listening, you enhance your ability to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then make a conscious effort to remember what is being said in a conversation.

By actively listening to other people, you can identify the underlying causes of the conflict and see clearly where your interests clash. Still, active listening skills help you find generative, creative, and mutually satisfying solutions.

Active Listening Demonstrates Empathy

In communication, empathy refers to seeing the conflict from the other person’s perspective. You are showing them that you understand them and that they can tell that you acknowledge their feelings.

You do not wake up in the morning knowing how to be empathetic, but it is a listening skill that you can learn. A short communication training can help you read body language and how to use it in combination with verbal cues to assess the other person’s feelings.

Active Listening De-escalates Conflicts

It is easier to resolve conflicts when two individuals manage to de-escalate, which also means getting their emotions in check. It is natural to get emotions running high in conflicts, but responding with the same high emotions will not get you the solutions you desire.

If someone attacks you verbally, you should practice active listening as the best approach to respond to them. Even though the odds are against you and you are the victim of circumstances, you should be the first to show the other person that you hear them and that you understand them.

It is even better to label every emotion the person feels to reduce the intensity of that emotion. Once you have your emotions in check, you and the other person can become reasonable, and it is time to move toward a resolution.

Skills for Effective Active Listening

To use active listening with co-workers, managers, and clients, you need specific skills that bring out the behavior and attitude desired to resolve conflicts. Here is a list of skills you should master to become effective in active listening:

  • Being fully present
  • Paying attention to non-verbal cues
  • Keeping good eye contact
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Summarizing important points
  • Patience
  • Withholding judgment

It is important to know the skills you need to use active listening while resolving conflicts effectively. The term ‘active’ in this case implies that you should take some action when you are listening to another individual. It involves you using the skills listed above.

Let’s look at the ways in which these skills contribute to conflict management and successful resolution.

Be Fully Present in the Conversation

Being fully present in a conversation, especially one that involves differences in opinion, is one way to work toward effective conflict management and successful resolution. For example, being fully present means that you are concentrating on what the other person is saying. It involves you listening with all your senses and giving your full attention to the speaker.

If you are close to your cell phone, you should put it away. It would be impossible to become fully present in a conversation when you are distracted. You should focus on the conversation and let everything else rest for the moment.

Paying Attention to Non-Verbal Cues

Understanding that a significant part of our communication is unspoken, it is crucial to pay attention to non-verbal cues. These cues, which include body language and facial expressions, can reveal much about a person’s true feelings and intentions, aiding in conflict resolution.

For instance, fast speech might indicate anxiety, while slow speech could suggest careful consideration or fatigue. By watching body language, you can adjust your behavior to make the conversation partner more comfortable, which is an essential active listening skill.

Keeping Good Eye Contact

We want to emphasize the importance of good eye contact as a key active listening technique. Not all eye contact is effective, as it could be perceived as menacing if not paired with the right facial expressions. Good eye contact signals to the person speaking that you are engaged and actively listening.

However, it’s crucial to balance it correctly. Adhering to the 50-70 rule, which suggests maintaining eye contact for about 50% to 70% of the time you are listening, can make the person feel heard. This also includes looking at the person for five seconds, then briefly looking away to avoid making them uncomfortable.

Asking Open-Ended Questions

Another vital active listening skill is the ability to ask open-ended questions. These questions allow for detailed responses, moving beyond simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. This approach is critical in conflict resolution, as it opens up the conversation, allowing for deeper understanding and resolution.

Open-ended questions demonstrate your interest and engagement in the conversation—a fundamental aspect of practicing active listening. For instance, asking the person their thoughts on an issue, their preferred solution, or how they might handle a situation differently encourages thoughtful and comprehensive responses, which is essential for effective conflict management.

This method highlights the importance of active listening, which is essential in resolving conflicts.

Summarizing Important Points

It is important to tell the other person exactly what you have heard them say, meaning that you must reflect on the information you just obtained. By summarizing the information in your own words, you are also capturing your ideas, thoughts, and emotions as accurately as possible as they pertain to the issue at hand. The other person will also feel validated because they will know they are understood.

For example, you can paraphrase a statement by saying things like, “In other words, what you are saying is that you feel ignored.” You should then give the other person an opportunity to tell you if you have captured the true content of their communication. If you capture the information correctly, you are also sure there is no miscommunication, and you are well on your way to managing the conflict and finding a successful resolution.

Patience

Patience is one of the most important skills you need to become an active listener. Patience is allowing the other person to speak without interruption. It is giving them time to complete their sentences without you interjecting with what you believe is the correct ending. Some people feel tempted to fill in voids in a conversation with their own stories and thoughts, but that is a lack of patience.

You cannot reply well to another person if you have not heard all that they have to say. If you happen to change the subject during these periods of silence, it means you are either bored or uninterested in resolving the conflict. In active listening, patience means you are letting a person speak until when they are done before you respond.

Withholding Judgment

It is always tempting to comment on a conversation in a way that emerges as judgmental, and it could affect the comfort of the other person. If you appear as a judgmental individual during a conversation, you risk making the other person afraid of sharing their thoughts.

Withholding judgment means making the conversation a safe zone and that they won’t be shamed, blamed, criticized, or negatively received. It would help if you started by learning to accept everyone and recognizing that you are judging others and then stopping those thoughts.

Real-World Examples of Active Listening in Conflict Situations

Maybe you are wondering what active listening techniques today look like in real life. Here is an example of a conversation between a manager and an employee showing how active listening techniques solved a conflict that could have ballooned into an all-out war between the two.

An Example

Employee: Hello, James. Do you have a minute?

Manager: Yes, please. Come in and sit down (Puts down the phone, closes the laptop, removes reading glasses, initiates eye contact, and folds hands across his chest). Tell me what happened (open-ended question).

Employee: I just received my pay slip for the month, and I noticed it was less by $400. Do you know anything about any deduction (open-ended question)?

Manager: I am sorry to hear that. I understand how shocking it is to notice a salary deduction, but there is an explanation for the deductions, and they also happened across the board.

Employee: What would warrant such deductions across the board, sir? I don’t remember receiving any communication from my supervisor regarding possible deductions, which is why I am still confused.

Manager: Now, that is an issue of concern. We sent an official communication to all supervisors with a list of expectations for our employees. We would consider the expectations and goals you need to meet that would also determine how much you will earn at the end of the month.

Unfortunately, you did not receive that communication, and I take full responsibility. I will reimburse the deducted amount. Also, here is the official communication form you were to receive from your supervisor.

You can study it closely and focus on meeting the goals. The more you meet those goals, the higher your salary. It is our way of giving you an opportunity to make more than you currently do with a fixed earning.

Employee: I understand. Thank you. I will work toward these new goals.

The Importance of Conflict Resolution at the Workplace

If conflicts are not resolved in the workplace, their negative effects are noticeable immediately. For instance, conflicts can result in low employee morale and a dip in company profits. Every organization can avoid these eventualities by partaking in conflict management training sooner rather than later, which is also a cost-effective approach to conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution at work also means effective interactions between employees and supervisors. A person in a supervisory position needs active listening skills because that would help them understand the problems affecting employee productivity and how they can collaborate with these employees to find solutions.

Finally, conflict resolution in the workplace improves the safety of everyone within the premises. For example, practicing active listening techniques in healthcare settings greatly reduces instances of medical errors while preventing unintentional harm that could befall patients.

Some people also tend to get physical when they are angry, and active listening techniques help de-escalate situations and calm these people down before they engage in blows and kicks.

What Do We Offer?

Pollack Peacebuilding Systems offers conflict management training, which is more than the traditional conflict resolution and management techniques adopted in many workplaces. Pollack Peacebuilding Systems offers interactive workshops that bring together all employees in short, effective training programs that improve their active listening skills for successful conflict resolution.

Empower Your Team with Active Listening Skills

By enrolling in our conflict management course focused on active listening skills, you are making a significant decision for your workforce. This course is designed to teach your team the art of active listening, a skill often overlooked in communication. Typically, conflicts stem from communication roadblocks because individuals tend to listen with the intent to reply rather than to understand.

Participating in an active listening training program from Pollack Peacebuilding Systems equips your employees with an arsenal of tools, skills, and techniques to manage and resolve conflicts efficiently and calmly. The outcome? A team of contented employees and a positively impacted bottom line.

Join us in our journey toward better communication and conflict resolution.

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Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.