Active Listening

cognitive readiness social intelligence Nov 15, 2023

You could hear the eyes roll from everyone in the room.

Keith just entered the meeting. Everyone knew what that meant.

The meeting progressed, the project lead did a great job of moving it along, keeping everyone on task, and documenting the ideas. People felt good about the action items and direction. Keith had been nodding in agreement, asking questions, and offering insight from his CEO level.

The meeting was coming to a close, but everyone was still on edge. The meeting wasn’t quite over, and everyone knew it.

And there it was, Keith began his spiel.

Keith went ahead to tell everyone what the actual problems were, what the solutions were going to be, and what action items everyone was going to have. Fifty minutes of meeting all destroyed by one person.

But, Keith was actively listening, he showed all the signs…


Active Listening

Most of the advice out revolves around actively listening in the moment.

This is so prevalent because it’s so easy. It’s easy for the advice giver to suggest because these are simple and small actions anyone can do. It’s easy for the advice receiver because they want something they can check off from a list.


  •  Nod your head
  •  Ask questions
  •  Make eye contact

Listening falls under Social Intelligence

It’s a social activity, and as such, it’s not about you.

All of the action lists out there revolve around the person listening - do this, do that. But, listening is about the other person. It’s about their tone of voice, their body language, the topic they’re focused on, the items they highlight, etc.

If you focus on yourself, you’ll corrupt what you hear with your beliefs, assumptions, or judgments.

Another pitfall is that a lot of the actions on those lists can leave the speaker with the impression that you agree with them even if you don’t. In most cases, we just want to listen, not take sides, not influence, not steer, especially in the moment. We want to just gather information. Nodding your head or saying “uh huh” is a slippery slope.

You should be focused on the complete message being communicated, not just the words.

Great! You’ve now been talked out of ever actively listening to someone ever again. Well, let’s think about what we can do:

Between your ears and brain

Focusing on what listening actually is will focus our actions in the correct direction.

Listening is remembering. Boil it down. The only way someone knows you were truly listening to them is if you can repeat what they said or follow up on what they asked. Right?

But, research suggests that we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. If this is the case, shouldn’t we improve what we remember?

One way to look at memory is the 4Cs: Concentrate, Create, Connect, Continuous use.

Implement the 4Cs and you’ll take your active listening to new heights.

  • Concentrate on the speaker - their words, facial expressions, tone…
  • Create visuals, mentally, of what they are talking about, take notes for future reference
  • Connect all the items from the two points above to from a strong tapestry of what they were saying
  • Continuously come back to what they talked about, use their ideas in future design, ask them how things progressed, follow up to see if they need extra assistance

Stick to the 4Cs, honing your continuous use, and watch people show you how much they appreciate your listening to them.

If this gets you going and you want to dive deeper into memory, check out my Memory Booster.

You don’t have to make eye contact

Follow through is far more important to active listening than any meaningless gesture.

How often do you remember when someone follows up on something you said? How did that make you feel? Good, right? You think ‘hey, they were actually listening.’

And that’s the point to active listening - remembering. Move away from all the gesturing, weird noises, and interruptions, and move into actually listening to people. Active listening is a social intelligence, it can bring people together, and it can solve a lot of problems. But, we need to do more remembering and showing that we listened.


You see, Keith was actively listening, if you follow all the accepted lists on the subject. The problem was that Keith wasn’t actually listening. He was waiting to give his two cents, and everyone else knew it.

How? Because of his actions.

Sure, he nodded, asked questions, and offered feedback, but he ultimately ignored everything that was said - pretty much all the time, in pretty much all the meetings.

Teammates stopped offering their insights and suggestions. Team leads stopped taking notes and recording action items. Those who did still attend meetings, sat around and waited until the end to get their marching orders from Keith.

Active listing can solidify a team or shatter it into a thousand pieces. Choose wisely. Act wisely.


Referenced article: [45]

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