Does your small business have a hearing problem? Does it hear but not listen? ‘Active Listening’ is a technique that recognises that effective listening only happens when it is done intentionally.

  • Hearing is your ability to recognize sound.
  • Listening is the process by which you assign meaning to what you hear and observe.

The complication is that listening is a subjective process. Anyone that has been in a romantic relationship for more than a day knows that “I’m fine” doesn’t always mean “I’m fine”!

The following steps will help you start ‘Active Listening’.

Step 1: Give your undivided attention

  • Focus on the speaker.
  • Decide not to be distracted by anything else.
  • Do not try to multitask.

Step 2: Be aware of your body language

  • Use your body language to show that you are listening.
  • Keep an open body stance – face the speaker and do not fold your arms.
  • Keep comfortable eye contact without staring.
  • Be aware of your own emotional state and do not let it negatively impact on the speaker.

Step 3: Observe the speaker

  • Listen to what is being said – both the information and the choice of words.
  • Listen to the tone of their voice. What emotion is behind it?
  • Watch their body language and facial expressions.

Step 4: Don’t criticize

  • Do not interrupt the speaker.
  • Try to understand – put yourself in their position.
  • If the speaker has a complaint do not become defensive.
  • Do not criticise or jump to a judgement about what is being said.
  • You will get a chance to reply when you are sure that you have listened to what they have to say.

Step 5: Ask for clarification

  •  When the speaker has finished talking, if you haven’t understood something ask for clarification.

Step 6: Summarize

  • Finally, repeat back to the speaker a summary of what you think they said.
  • Give them the chance to confirm that you understood them correctly or to further clarify what they said.
  • Having been respectfully listened to you can expect to be able to reply to what has been said.


Listening seems like the most basic of human skills and yet most of us do it very poorly. We want to speak but not to listen – it is an irony that ‘silent’ is an anagram of ‘listen’.

Your small business environment is a rich source of valuable information and relationships waiting to be uncovered. It’s just possible that your next customer complaint could become the product or service improvement that will open up your market and set your business free – but only if you’re listening!

© Business Set Free Ltd 2013

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