Think about the latest movie you have seen that involved a hostage situation. Did you observe any hostage negotiation techniques to get a criminal to change their mind? What did he say? Do you remember? What were his tactics?

Believe it or not, hostage negotiators are trained in active listening – a special skill used to communicate (listen and speak) to fully understand what each person involved in the conversation is saying. And you don’t have to be in a hostage situation to use it – you can use it daily. Listening to your spouse asking for grocery items, attending meetings, or just listening to the news.

Active listening is a cooperative process that establishes understanding between people. Active listening focuses on the speaker’s reactions because reactions are universal; situations and experiences aren’t. Reactions must be acknowledged before a conversation can move forward. Effective active listeners can build trust and rapport in a conversation and demonstrate respect. Active listeners generally have empathy and respect for others and an open attitude.

Active listening is a communication technique that requires a listener to concentrate, comprehend, and remember what is being said. There are six recommended active listening tools you can use to become an active and better listener – drawing out these qualities in you too.

Reflections acknowledge reactions and connect them to the message’s essential content in your own words. An example of using reflections could be, “You’re frustrated because you worked through lunch to finish your last minute task.” Try to place the reaction word at the beginning of the sentence and be sure to avoid words that minimize the speaker’s feelings.

We use reflections to:

    • Link reactions to situations
    • Acknowledge underlying reactions
    • Balance conflicting feelings
    • Build and maintain rapport through a conversation

Another active listening  tool includes minimal encouragers. They are verbal listening noises or non-verbal gestures like “ummm” and/or non-verbal minimal encouragers including eye contact, head nods, and smiles. We use minimal encouragers to:

    • Show you are tracking the conversation
    • Remain neutral

Summaries integrate multiple reactions and facts. An example of using summaries is: “You’re worried about the timeline for this project. You feel pressured by your supervisor’s demands and overwhelmed by the amount of work. What have you thought about doing to handle this situation?” We use Summaries to:

    • Focus the conversation
    • Transition to problem solving
    • Signal the end of a conversation

Another active listening tool is: open ended questions, which encourage in-depth answers to avoid “yes” or “no” answers. An example of using open ended questions is “What have you done to finish the status report?” We use open-ended questions to:

    • Use “what” or “how” instead of “why” to avoid making the speaker feel defensive
    • Facilitate problem solving
    • Empower the speaker

Silence allows processing of thoughts and information. An example of using silence: Sitting quietly while the speaker processes thoughts and reaction. We use silence to:

    • Allow the speaker time to process thoughts and reactions
    • Avoid applying pressure
    • Meet the speaker where he/she is at in the moment

We use I-statements to clarify expectations and establish boundaries. An example of using I-statements: “I’m busy right now. I’m working on a deadline. I’ll be able to talk with you about your project tomorrow.” I-statements can:

    • Clarify understanding
    • Insert you into a conversation
    • Make assertive but non-threatening statements

Becoming an active (better) listener takes practice and patience (with yourself). Learning active listening tools can feel like learning a foreign language. Initially, it feels awkward and counter-intuitive to the way we interact with others daily. Effective active listening is powerful tool to understand your customers, colleagues, friends, and family while increasing overall operational efficiency.


Andrea has 15+ years of professional Training & Development (T&D) experience in instructional systems design (ISD) and managing L&D programs and projects in the Federal government space. At Edwards, Andrea is responsible for leading all T&D projects, fostering relationships with customers, and business development efforts to assist the growth of the T&D Solutions Area.

1 Comment

  1. This rings so true. Nothing makes a person feel better than knowing they are being heard.

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