The Importance of Active Listening

July 9, 2019 | Featured Articles

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Communication problems abound. The number one complaint from leaders and managers is “poor communication.” Today, effective communication is more important than ever, and developing active listening skills is a necessity in all aspects of one’s professional and personal life. You can learn to be a better active listener.

Active listening is a skill that anyone can develop with practice. Active listening is a fundamental interpersonal communication skill that helps leaders, administrators, and managers be better communicators and problem solvers.

Active listening is not the only key to a pleasant conversation and genuine, empathetic engagement, it also has the potential to increase positive emotions. I often say, “A good conversation is as stimulating as dark coffee but more memorable.” Why is that? Active listening can increase our subjective well-being and provide greater life satisfaction.

Three Levels of Listening

There are three levels of active listening:

Level 1: Internal listening (e.g., the speaker is looking inside, but the listener may be listening to how that story affects the speaker)

Level 2: Focused listening (e.g., the listener is laser-focused on the speaker’s agenda)

Level 3: Global listening (e.g., the listener is focused on global cues, including intuition, emotions, body language, or the environment.)

Do you notice the differences? Now reflect on that last conversation you had with a partner, colleague or employee. Was it at level 1, level 2, or level 3?

Types of Active Listening

In addition to those three levels of active listening, there are four main types of active listening that require the listener to hear, evaluate, and interpret the content of speech.  You can practice each of these techniques.


One way to develop empathy and practice active listening is by paraphrasing. The listener repeats the essence of the message spoken by the communicator using their own words. This demonstrates that the listener is actively concentrating on the narrative the communicator is trying to convey.

Paraphrasing can be the most challenging active listening technique to perfect as it requires skill as well as discipline.

TIP: Record your paraphrase using your smartphone. Then share it with your colleague and ask, “Is this an accurate paraphrase?” It works.

Reflected Emotions

Another technique that practice leadership can use to improve upon active listening involves reflecting the feelings of the communicator. This type of active listening establishes an emotional rapport between the communicator and the listener.

Be careful when using this technique. Emotions describe another person’s state (e.g., mad, sad, glad, happy). Judgments or opinions are not the same as emotions. Be careful to state feelings only – not judgments when reflecting emotions to another person.

TIP: Ask something like, “If I understand you correctly, you are feeling (emotion) because of (action/event). Is that accurate?”

Reflected Meaning

To establish rapport between a leader and a colleague, or between a speaker and listener, is through reflected meaning. Reflected meaning focuses on the factual message of the speaker instead of emotional communication.

As an example, use data or facts to build your case like a lawyer. State only the facts, and include numbers, dates, and details. The result of repeating those exact details is that the listener nods their head as if confirming understanding with the speaker.

TIP: Consider using the following question to employ reflective meaning “What I’m hearing is that when (action) occurs, you feel (emotion) and want to do (new behavior or action). Is that accurate?”

Summative Reflection  

Summative reflection includes a confirmation of the message content. This technique strengthens interpersonal ties and promotes efficiency in the communication process.

Summative reflection combines elements of paraphrasing, reflected meaning, and reflected emotion, and requires the listener to incorporate personal views into the communicator’s message.

While summative reflection can be the most challenging type of active listening to exercise, it is the most powerful.

TIP: Take notes when you’re having important conversations so that you can accurately summarize the essential details and validate the other person’s concerns.

Active listening techniques can be learned and get better with regular practice. Consider outsourcing a coach to help you and your team become better listeners and better communicators all around. Bringing active listening into your medical practice will help build relationships, solve problems, resolve conflicts, and improve morale.