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Active Listening: How It Supports Business Success and Where It Falls Short

Posted by Christina Guarino on Sep 23, 2019 7:10:00 AM


This is the first blog in a series of three that will explore active listening, cognitive diversity, and then how they combine to create even greater business success through Listening Intelligence. The first step to improving your listening is to be an active, attentive listener let's explore this below.  

What Is Active Listening?

In addition to its ability to improve everyday conversations, active listening has also become a popular topic within the business and educational communities. Did you know that active listening was first introduced over 60 years ago? Psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson first coined active listening in 1957 to describe when a listener is intently focusing on what is being said, and then conveys to the speaker that they were truly engaged. While the term “active listening” has taken on slightly nuanced definitions across industries, the main concept remains consistent: we can hear what is being said, but it takes additional effort and practice to truly listen to what the speaker is saying. Some specific components of active listening are:

  • Paying full attention to the speaker
  • Showing that you are paying attention through eye contact and body language
  • Withholding judgment, and
  • Reflecting back to the speaker what you are hearing to demonstrate that you truly listened to them.

How Active Listening Saves Money and Improves Company Culture

On average, we retain only 25% of what we hear. Large businesses lose an estimated $15,000 per employee per year due to miscommunication, which amounts to an approximate $50 million in total yearly loss. Improving communication through active listening can lessen this cost.

When looking at how an individual’s ability to listen affects the speaker, a study found that speakers who receive active listening responses “felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgements.” When a speaker feels understood, they are more likely to form a satisfying relationship with the listener and feel more relaxed, thus creating a more meaningful and productive conversation. Additionally, employees who work under supervisors with higher listening skills and attitudes report experiencing less stress, having higher worksite support and feeling more control over their job. The fact that just an improved ability to listen can result in employees experiencing less fatigue, anxiety and depression is significant in many ways, perhaps most so in that better performing employees result in a better performing company, which ultimately increases business results.

Where Active Listening Falls Short

While active listening provides the basis for any type of successful communication, when used alone to solve workplace communication issues, it can have its shortcomings. Misunderstandings happen all the time and, while active listening can reduce mishaps, it’s no silver bullet for smoothing out conversation. It is critical to understand your own cognitive biases; what you are listening to and for while actively listening may or may not align with what the speaker is intending to convey.

Interested in learning about what these cognitive biases are, and ultimately how to improve your listening beyond just active listening? Be on the lookout for the next couple of blogs that will explore this!


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Topics: Listening for Business, Listening, Listening for Sales, Leadership, Communication, Performance, Active Listening