The Skill of Active Listening

The Skill of Active Listening

Are you a good listener?

You may think you’re a good listener—maybe someone even told you were a good listener. Or maybe not. As a leader, this is a very important question. So much of your ability to solve the problems your team is bringing to you depends upon your ability to understand them. And in order to help your team feel heard and listened to when they’re pitching possible solutions depends on being a good listener.

No matter what you answered to the opening question, there’s good news for all. Listening well is a skill—the skill of active listening. And while that skill is crucial for communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, it’s also learnable.

In this article, we will explore the skill of active listening and how it can benefit both leaders and their teams. To do that, we will delve into the four specific skills involved in active listening using an acronym first developed by communication expert Julian Treasure: RASA—Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask.


The first skill of active listening is to receive. Truly paying attention and receiving the information being shared is the first step in active listening. It involves listening without interrupting or formulating a response, making eye contact, and paying attention to non-verbal cues. By actively receiving information, leaders demonstrate their commitment to understanding and valuing the speaker’s perspective.

When leaders listen without interrupting, they create a safe space for open communication and encourage the speaker to express themselves fully. Making eye contact and paying attention to non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, helps leaders gain a deeper understanding of the speaker’s emotions and intentions. Taking notes, if necessary, ensures an accurate reception of information and allows leaders to refer back to important points during discussions or when making decisions.


The second skill of active listening is to appreciate. Appreciation involves showing non-verbal signs of appreciation, such as nodding or making eye contact, to let the speaker know that their words are being heard and valued. By expressing appreciation through gestures, nods, and verbal cues, leaders create a positive and supportive environment that encourages open communication.

When leaders make the speaker feel valued and heard, it fosters trust and respect within the team. Genuine interest and active engagement in the conversation encourage the speaker to share more, leading to a deeper understanding of their thoughts and feelings. By appreciating the speaker’s perspective, leaders create a space where diverse ideas and opinions are welcomed and respected.


The third skill of active listening is to summarize. Summarizing what the other person has said demonstrates understanding and allows leaders to check for accuracy. By reiterating the main points of what the speaker has shared, leaders show that they have been actively listening and processing the information.

Confirming understanding and giving the speaker an opportunity to clarify or correct any misunderstandings is crucial in effective communication. Leaders can use phrases like “What I heard you say is…” or “It sounds like you’re saying…” to summarize the speaker’s points and seek confirmation. This not only ensures that leaders have accurately understood the message but also makes the speaker feel heard and respected.


The final skill of active listening is to ask. Asking questions after a teammate has finished sharing allows leaders to delve deeper into the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, encouraging further discussion and exploration. By asking open-ended questions, leaders prompt the speaker to provide more details or insights, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic at hand.

It is important for leaders to avoid jumping to advice-giving and instead focus on understanding the speaker’s perspective. By asking thoughtful questions, leaders show genuine interest and create an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns. This fosters better collaboration and problem-solving within teams.

Practicing and improving these four skills will improve your active listening. But more importantly, it will improve listening and communication on the whole team. Leaders set the example for their team members to follow. And as team members emulate the example and improve their own skills, that fosters an environment of trust and respect during discussions. And a team demonstrating trust and respect is a team that helps everyone do their best work ever.





About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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