Secret 2 - What is active listening really?

Black BELT negotiators are good active listeners. It makes sense, right!

But many people only listen politely while thinking about what they will say or argue next. And above all we tend to forget the reason why we listen : finding the other party's interest or need.

Our studies show that you will be twice as likely to find a strong agreement if you find the other party's underlying need.

So how do you acquire listening skills? What does listening really mean? And how to do it for real and avoid the common traps?

Active Listening

Active listening is a concept developed from the work of the American psychologist Carl Rogers (1). It is a technique that is used in counselling, training and solving disputes or conflicts. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

"We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet [active] listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know." - Carl Rogers


Active listening involves the willingness to understand the underlying messages, needs or interests behind what your counterpart may express. It is different from listening politely while thinking about what I will be saying next.


The time of listening

While listening, one can display a "positive silence", while briefly intervening with "yes, I understand", to show the interlocutor that one is listening to both his arguments (the problem) and his feelings (the person).

Time for clarification

Clarifying here means "understanding the meaning of words". After the listening time, if there is any doubt about the meaning of certain words in the speaker's presentation, it is possible to ask the speaker to come back to them. To clarify, ask questions such as:

"What do you mean by..." or "What does this term mean to you?" -"What do you mean by...?"; "What does it mean to you...?" -"What exactly do you feel when...?"

You then put yourself in a listening position again and try to clarify until there are no more points to clarify.

Investigation time

Deepen the interlocutor's point of view to better understand. To do this, the following three primary forms of questions can be used:

  • Open question: The open question allows the recipient to address the topic at his or her convenience (Example: What is the situation like?)
  • Factual question: This question helps to clarify essential aspects of the problem, to gather additional information (Example: How many people are involved in this project?)
  • Survey question: Unlike the previous question, an opinion is not worth doing. But it is sometimes essential to know the idea of the person you are talking to (Example: In your opinion, what should be done to solve this problem?

Reformulation time

Reformulation will ensure that the transmitter has been listened to. By this feedback, the sender will have both the feeling of having been understood and will be able to start again in his subject from the exact point where he had been interrupted. For the sender, reformulation is the only proof of listening. It can help to calm the relationship when communication is difficult, as the interlocutor is shown that his or her request is understood and taken into account. You can use the "3-words reformulation" to let your counterpart speaks. It consists of repeating 3 chosen meaningful words said by the one you listen to.

Final Tip

To help you focus on your counterpart and not be trapped into your brain's thinking, you can take notes: a question you wish to ask, a need you have identified, an emotion you've seen or feel. Anything you can get out of your brain so you can focus your attention.



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