Active listening requires more of both parties than any other kind of listening, as it requires people to be fully engaged in the process. Listening, asking questions, clarifying information, and taking notes are all ways to practice active listening.
Active listening is a critical component in effective communication between any two groups or individuals for the following reasons (as cited in the eNotes link on listening, attached below):
- Listening enables us to gain important information.
- Listening enables us to be more effective in interpreting a message.
- Listening enables us to gather data to make sound decisions.
- Listening enables us to respond appropriately to the messages we hear.
Specifically, if communication between leaders/management and employees is weak or ineffective the organization is likely to be weak and ineffective, as well.
Active listening requires both parties to be engaged in the communication process; if one or both parties is inattentive or disengaged, the information-gathering and decision-making process is compromised. For example, if a manager is communicating some new company policies but one or more of the employees is not paying full attention, consistency in procedures and outcomes in the workplace is unlikely. The result of that can be a loss of revenue which ultimately means lost jobs.
Active listening is also essential to problem-solving in any organization. The ability to really hear and identify a problem leads to the potential to solve it. On the other hand, incomplete or inaccurate information due to inattentive listening can result in unresolved problems. This, in turn, can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction in employees, in management, and in customers.
Active listening is the quickest way to identify and correct areas which need improvement, as well. Without that skill, the problems and weaknesses can worsen; but at the least it is certain they will not improve without the kind of constructive interaction which occurs during active listening.
In short, more information is better than less, and active listening is the best way to gather more information in order to effect change. Just as important, however, is the perception, at least, of being an active participant in the communication process. Body language is telling, as are eye contact and being responsive to others in a communication circumstance.
The attached site below also outlines some useful hints to improve active listening skills.