As we have seen in the article "Managerial Communication Techniques: Defining Active Listening", active listening is a communication tool that allows both making sure and proving that we have understood our interlocutor's message. The mechanisms of active listening follow a 4-steps cycle that is repeated until the message's understanding is validated by the interlocutor. We may refer to this methodology as "four-step active listening cycle" (illustration):
I. Listening to the message: While listening, we may display an "attentive silence", while shortly intervening with phrases such as "yes, I understand", in order to prove to the interlocutor that we are listening to both his/her arguments (the issue) and feelings (the person).
II. Clarifying the message: In this context, clarifying means "understanding the meaning of the words". After listening, should there be any doubt as to the meaning of certain words in the interlocutor's exposé, it is possible to ask about it. In order to clarify, we may simply ask such questions as:
You then go back to listening and try clarifying until the meaning of each word is made clear to you.
III. Investigating the message: going more in depth, in order to better understand the interlocutor's point of view. To do so, we may essentially use the three following types of questions:
1. Open-ended questions: open-ended questions allow our interlocutors to discuss the issue as they deem best.
Example : How do you look at this situation?
2. Funnel questions: This technique implies asking questions to gain information on a specific subject, and then homing in on a point in each answer. More and more details are obtained at each level. and asking more and more detail at each level. This technique allows gathering information on essential aspects of the problem.
Example : How many people are involved in this project? How many of them do you directly supervise? Etc.
3. Probing questions: Unlike in funnel questioning, here we are seeking opinions rather than facts. It may indeed be important to know what others would advise to do.
Example : In your opinion, what do we need to do to solve this issue?
IV. Paraphrasing the message: Paraphrasing will allow us to make sure that we understand our interlocutors correctly. Moreover, by giving back the meaning of the message, we will provide a proof of this understanding, thus allowing them to restart the discussion exactly where it had stopped. For our interlocutors, this re-statement is the only proof that they are indeed being listened to. This approach can help appeasing the relationship when the communication is tense, for we are showing to our interlocutors that we understand what they want and care about it.
Paraphrasing also presents the following advantages:
It is also interesting to point out that the use of paraphrasing with one's subordinates can prove an excellent means of developing one's active listening skills. Also, the article "A Few Practical Tools to Improve Your Active Listening Skills" offers you a few hints at how you can make your communication more fluid and increase your capacity to listen.