Active listening is a communication tool that consists in using questioning and paraphrasing techniques in order to clarify the message of one's interlocutor, make sure that one has understood it correctly, and provide evidence of this understanding. This methodology has been pioneered by the American psychologist Carl Rogers, the father of the so-called non-directive communication techniques. It emphasizes the need of showing respect and trust towards one's interlocutors, so that they may drop their guard and express themselves as freely as possible.
For Rogers, the emotional aspects of a given situation are more important than its rational aspects. One's attention should thus be focused on the heart language rather than on the purely rational discourse. According to Rogers, whatever technique is used, it will prove powerless if the "listener" does not adopt a behavior that combines authenticity and understanding, or if he/she doesn't refrain from interpreting and/or judging what is being said.
According to Rogers, listening should strictly comply with five principles:
Rogers also stresses the importance of including the two fundamental attitudes of 1) non-directivity and 2) empathy into one's active listening approach.
I. Non-directivity: What is essential in this approach is to be person-centered, while not trying to influence or put pressure on the interlocutor's attitude. According to Rogers, in the area of business consulting, the "consultant" should neither advise nor interpret, but rather provide the framework in which their "clients" will be able to solve the problems. For, he believed, it is they who hold the key to sovling their own issues. Being non-directive, however, does not mean being inactive or uninvolved. It rather consists in "feeling with" the other person, which he considered to be more important thant the sharing of thoughts.
II. Empathy: Empathy is defined here as "the ability to get immersed into the other person's subjective world, in order to understand it from within". Empathy is "the willingness to experience the other person's world as if it were our own". This attitude of unconditional acceptance gives interlocutors a chance to fully expose their views. It gives others the time to express themselves, to say all they have to say. The positivity of this attitude frees an important amount of energy that may easily be reinvested into the completion of the tasks ahead. The absence of psychological defenses allows giving one's full attention to the discourse, so that it may be better shared and understood.
As we will see in the article "Managerial Communication Techniques: Active Listening Methodology and Questioning Techniques", active listening is not only a philosophical state of mind, but also a method that follows well-defined steps that allow making sure that the interlocutor's message has been correctly understood.