Cheryl Jacobs-Senior Vice President


Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of restating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words – to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

This focus on “understanding” is at the core of active listening and what makes active listening a valuable technique to develop as a leader.

There are several skills you can practice when active listening.


What it is: Restating a message into your own words and usually with fewer words. Where possible, try to get more to the point.


  • To test your understanding of what you heard.
  • To communicate that you are trying to understand what is being said. If you’re successful, paraphrasing indicates that you are following the speaker’s verbal explorations and that you’re beginning to understand the basic message.

When listening, consider asking yourself:

  • What is the speaker’s basic thinking message?
  • What is the person’s basic feeling message?


  • Speaker: “I just don’t understand. One minute she tells me to do this, and the next minute to do that.”
  • Listener: “She really confuses you.”
  • Speaker: “I’ve enjoyed her being my manager, for the most part. She’s well respected in the organization. Building relationships is a strength of hers and something I’d like to improve.”
  • Listener: “You can learn from her.”


What it is: The process of bringing vague material into sharper focus.


  • To tell the other person what you thought you heard; learn whether you were right or wrong; and ask questions to clarify.
  • To untangle unclear or wrong listener interpretation.
  • To get more information.
  • To help the speaker see other points of view.
  • To identify what was said.


  • “I’m confused. Let me try to state what I think you were trying to say.”
  • “You’ve said so much; let me see if I’ve got it all.”


What it is: Pulling together, organizing, and integrating the major aspects of your dialogue. Pay attention to various themes and emotional overtones. Put key ideas and feelings into broad statements. You do not add new ideas.


  • To give a sense of movement and accomplishment in the exchange.
  • To establish a basis for further discussion.
  • To pull together major ideas, facts, and feelings.


  • “A number of good points have been made about ideas for the project. Let’s take a few minutes to go over them and write them on the board.”
    “The three major points of the story are…”


What it is: Reflection of content and feelings.


  • To show that you understand the speaker’s experience.
  • To allow the speaker to evaluate his/her feelings after hearing them expressed by someone else.

Basic Formula:

  • “You feel (state feeling) because (state content)


  • Employee: “I just don’t know how I am going to get all this testing done before tonight’s deadline, especially since I’m still learning and figuring out what we did today.”
  • Manager: “You are feeling frustrated and stuck…You are feeling frustrated and stuck because you are still learning from previous testing and experience and are unsure about how it impacts what you should do moving forward.”

Hearing Versus Listening

I had a conversation with my 10-year-old son this morning about listening in school. He’s having some challenges following directions. He said that he “hears” the instructions. When I asked if he listened, he couldn’t differentiate between the two skills.

Hence his problem. He was outwardly silent – technically hearing the instructions. However, his brain was already thinking about what he was going to do next (or about hockey if he is totally honest!)

Hearing is not listening. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.

Most people tend to be “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing.”

Developing better listening skills can help all leaders. Here are some simple, yet proven, strategies that can help:

  • Eliminate multi-tasking;
  • Don’t interrupt;
  • Don’t finish the other person’s sentences;
  • Don’t say, “I knew that;”
  • Don’t use the interjection words “no,” “but,” and “however;”
  • Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart and funny you are; and
  • Listen actively.

There has been a lot written about how to actively listen. Active listening by definition is the process of understanding and actively interpreting communicated messages and responding to spoken or nonverbal messages.