[PODCAST] The How Of Active Listening

Our brand new episode of our podcast Take Flight is out! Learn all about the how of active listening in this episode, with Gina Baralin.

We just released Episode 13 of our podcast, Take Flight! And in this exciting episode, our hosts, Chaz and Motso, chat with Gina Balarin about the how of active listening.

All the way from sunny Australia, Gina Balarin joined our hosts once again in our new episode to unpack the how of active listening. In part one of our active listening series with Gina, we discussed Why Active Listening Matters and How it Helps Businesses in Today's Jaded World. Be sure to give it a listen in case you missed it. 

What do most people get wrong when they try to listen actively, and how can you listen more effectively? Here’s what Gina had to say.

“We simply process the information that we will give to the other person when we're communicating, rather than actually listening to hear what they have to say. And more importantly, sometimes we should be listening to what they're not saying.” Gina goes on to say that active listening involves talking to someone, and listening to their response, but also making sure that you’re asking follow-up questions to understand if what they said is, in fact, what you heard.

Gina advises that in order to listen more effectively, it helps to take notes. And while taking notes won’t necessarily make sense in a social context, trying to remember the key points of what someone is saying, and waiting for them to finish without interrupting, will ultimately help you listen more effectively. 

“What I found was really helpful for me, is actually taking notes about the things I wanted to say. So instead of having to jump in, and there might have been two or three or four things I wanted to say, I started keeping a pen and a post-it note with me.” 

Techniques on how to improve your active listening skills

Gina references the Centre for Creative Leadership, where she learned the following techniques on how one can improve active listening skills. There are six key active listening skills that they recommend, which include: 

  • Paying attention
  • Not judging people
  • Reflecting on what the person is saying
  • Being able to clarify 
  • Being able to summarise what someone is saying
  • Sharing the information that we receive 

The reality is that not everyone can be a good listener, but active listening is a skill that we can all practice and become better at. The above techniques are there to help you grow your active listening skills and truly become a better listener. 

“I think it's the importance of humanity and the importance of listening with your whole heart and your whole soul and allowing people the time and the grace to listen and to respond.”

You can improve your active listening skills by putting the above techniques into practice in both business and social settings. Reach out to us and let us know how these techniques are working for you. Listen to this episode in full and remember to always practice active listening. 

Listen to Episode 13 in full here:

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Full Transcript below:

Motso: (00:00)

Do better.

Chaz: (00:01)

Be better. Welcome back to the Spitfire Podcast, Take Flight. We're your hosts, Chaz...

Motso: (00:07)

And Motso, Inbound Implementers and Social Media experts at Spitfire Inbound. Joining us all the way from Sunny Australia is Communications Expert, Gina Balarin, and we're digging into the how of active listening.

Chaz: (00:20)

If you missed part one, Why Active Listening Matters and How it Helps Business in Today's Jaded World, it's in the links below. But even without that episode, we're sure you'll love the techniques that Gina is going to walk us through today. So hi again, Gina.

Motso: (00:37)

Welcome back, Gina.

Gina: (00:39)

Thank you guys for having me.

Chaz: (00:41)

I'm still reeling from our last conversation, so I'm going to jump straight in and ask, what do most people get wrong when they try to actively listen?

Gina: (00:50)

Well, actually they talk instead of listening. That's the first point. As we discussed in the last episode, and for anyone who's new to this, the key point about active listening is the act of listening. Now, that may sound a bit trite, but it's true, because more often than not, we listen in order to speak. We are simply processing the information that we are going to give to the other person when we're communicating rather than actually listening to hear what they have to say. And more importantly, sometimes we should be listening to what they're not saying. It is in the gaps between the information that they share. It is in their body language, it's in their tone of voice. It's in the pauses that helps us understand whether they're listening or whether they're actually just saying yes, because they want to end the conversation. So active listening involves talking to someone, listening to their response, but making sure that we're asking follow-up questions to understand whether what they said is in fact what we heard.

Chaz: (01:57)

Before we jump into the techniques, I find it really interesting, as we're running this podcast talking about active listening. And obviously myself and Motso's job is to do just that, to keep the podcast flowing, and it's really difficult to not listen to someone in order to respond.

Gina: (02:21)

It's true.

Chaz: (02:22)


Gina: (02:23)

So, what do you do when you need to listen more effectively?

Chaz: (02:29)

Well, that's exactly it. You're putting me on the spot. I'm listening and I'm really interested, and I care and I sincerely want to keep the conversation going. And that's what I think, is from what we've touched on already in the previous episode, was that listening, active listening, sincerely, in order to have a sincere response and you actually care. And that obviously feeds into that inbound methodology again, like that empathetic and human way. But it's difficult to not listen, and want to respond to that one piece of nugget that makes sense to you.

Gina: (03:11)

Do you know, I found it really hard to be better at listening because it is a skill, and like a skill, anyone can improve by paying more attention to what they're doing. What I found was really helpful for me, is actually taking notes about the things I wanted to say. So instead of having to jump in, and there might have been two or three or four things I wanted to say, I started keeping a pen and a post-it note with me. Now, we can obviously do that in a business context. It's not so easy on a Sunday afternoon around a braai, especially after a few beers, right? But I do find that if you're able to remember the key points of what you want to say, it becomes much easier to listen with the intent to respond. Because more often than not, by the time someone's actually finished what they're saying, you may find that there's a completely different interpretation to what they started off saying.

Gina: (04:04)

So let's think about it. The average response might be, I don't know, 45 seconds. At the beginning of those 45 seconds, they're going in one direction. At the end of those 45 seconds, they may be going in a completely different direction. They might even have changed their mind in the middle of a sentence. If you were already trying to respond, you might be responding to the thing they said in the first 15 seconds, and not responding to the thing they said in the last 15 seconds. Well, that spells disaster, doesn't it? It simply means that you're not actually listening to what they're saying all the way through. So that, in a nutshell, is a good reason to actually wait for the pause. Now, I'm going to throw this question back to you, and Motso, I'm really curious, have you ever been in a situation when you're talking to someone, and you're interrupting each other so much that you completely forget what you said at the beginning of the conversation?

Motso: (04:56)

It does happen, and especially when you are feeling agitated or when you want to get your point across. And that doesn't help at all because if you are not actually listening to solve the problem, you're just listening to respond. As much as you might think that you want to solve for the problem, but you're not listening to what the other person is saying. So I've been in that situation before, but through this conversation, I feel like it's so valuable to actually listen to what the other person is saying, and not just quickly respond. Because you might be missing some key insights in terms of what they want or what they tried to communicate.

Gina: (05:35)

You have articulated that so beautifully. Thank you very much indeed. I think there was another point there that we could be thinking about with active listening. And that is, do we give each other the grace and the courtesy to allow a pause? Now, we know that we like talking over each other, and we always have a lot to say, right? It's a cultural thing. I know this in South Africa, and I used to do that all the time, but sometimes you have to. You feel that if you don't respond, that someone else will jump in and they'll steal your point, or the conversation will run off in a direction and you don't get a chance to input. I think there is almost a contract that we need to make with people when we are really trying to listen effectively. And that is to say to them, maybe explicitly or implicitly, “Hey, listen, we're having a serious conversation. Can you please let me finish what I wanted to say first before you respond?” And often that helps us get to a situation where we can see what the real crux of the matter is. Now, the fact is that great communicators can learn how to put their point right at the beginning of the sentence, but often we're human and we're still making up our minds. And sometimes we talk in order to figure out what we're actually going to say. If someone interrupts us before we get to the end of that train of thought, there is a risk that we genuinely forget what we were trying to say or actually lose that train of thought. And therefore we actually can't communicate meaning effectively. I know that's happened to me at least, often in arguments with siblings and spouses, right? You know, we get frustrated and we actually might even be saying the same thing, but because we're so adamant about putting our point across, we actually don't wait for them to finish and we don't listen to what they're really saying. I can't count the number of times I've had a conversation with my husband where we're saying the same thing, but because we're saying it in different ways, we actually think we're disagreeing. And it's so crazy because clearly I'm not listening to what he's really saying.

Chaz: (07:48)

Yeah. And I love that concept as well about the first 15 seconds, let's say, versus that last 15 seconds. And that active listening, allowing that pause, is just creating that space because the first 15 seconds could be the message that you don't want to hear, but that last 15 seconds is the message that you do want to hear. But that whole message was important to that person to get across. So I really enjoyed the way that you said leave that space for a person by actively listening.

Motso: (08:22)

Nice. And what I liked about what you said, Gina, is that listening is actually a skill. And I'm sure we've heard that before. I know from my side I've heard it before. So, do you have any techniques that you can give to our listeners on how to improve their active listening skills?

Gina: (08:41)

Well, there's a great cheat sheet if you think about it. And this comes from the Centre for Creative Leadership, not my own brain. So credit to them for these great tips. There are six key active listening skills that they recommend. And the first is to pay attention. Now, I don't know if you've ever been in the room with someone when they're really truly paying attention to you. Expert leaders can actually sit in a room with you and you feel like you are the centre of their universe, like nothing else exists but you at that moment. That is when people are really paying attention. The second thing that you can do when you're actively listening is to not judge people. Now, it's hard. We all make judgment calls about people. Maybe someone's hair's too short or too long, their skirt is too short or too long, their shirt is too loud or not loud enough.

Gina: (09:30)

Active listening also means that we have to withhold judgment. And it doesn't mean that we don't make those judgements. We do, as humans, we judge people all the time. It is more about saying, “Oh, that's interesting. I judged that person. Hmm, let me see if I can change my opinion, or just hold on to that opinion and listen to who they are, to what they mean, not what they look like or how they present or express themselves.” The third element is being able to reflect on what someone's saying. This is what we say when we mean listen to understand, not listen to respond. Give our brains the time to make the connections between what they're saying and what they actually mean, and give ourselves the courtesy of allowing our brains to think about things more deeply. The fourth element is to be able to clarify.

Gina: (10:16)

This is a really underestimated skill. Unfortunately, when you're thinking about a message, there is a sender and a receiver, and the transmission is the message. Unfortunately, what often happens is there's a lot of noise in the middle of that process. Sometimes there's noise in the background, sometimes there's noise in our own heads. And what happens is that person A says, blah, blah, blah, and person B hears, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Not the same thing at all. In order to be able to understand that, we have to ask clarifying questions. Did you mean this? Now another step, which is the fifth step in the six key act of listening skills, is to be able to summarise what someone says. If we were able to actually say, “I think I heard you say blah, blah, blah. Is that correct?” It gives them a wonderful opportunity to say, “Yes, that's exactly what I meant”, or to say “No. In fact, I didn't mean that. I meant something completely different.”

Gina: (11:10)

And then the last step in these six active listening skills is to actually share the information we receive. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean go out on social media and post it to all your friends, and send a text to your boss about what's going on. No, no, no. What we mean is that actually the sharing of the information is what are you going to do about that information? Remember, most of the time, people aren't just telling you stuff for the sake of telling you stuff. They're telling you because they are looking for a solution. They're looking for empathy. They're just looking to be able to offload. It is in that response, and that sharing of agreed next steps, we call it next steps in the business world. You know, in a personal world, it might be, “How can I help you?” And that question is incredibly powerful because sometimes people will go, “You know what? No, thank you, just listening really helped me.” And I know for a fact that one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the ability to truly listen with your head, your ears, your eyes, but most importantly, your heart and your soul.

Chaz: (12:23)

So to summarise, those big stacks of listening skills are to pay attention, withhold judgment, reflect, clarify, summarise, and share. And I had to have a giggle when you said, with the share, that doesn't mean you go blast it on your social and let your boss know, sort of thing. But it goes back to that point of where we used HR as an example. You know, it's all good and well that you use these skills in order to hear someone's point of view, but the whole purpose of that is to solve, and that's where that sharing comes from.

Motso: (13:07)

So, Gina, as a closing off question, if people had to remember one thing from this episode, what should it be?

Gina: (13:15)

I think it's the importance of humanity and the importance of listening with your whole heart and your whole soul, and allowing people the time and the grace to listen and to respond. We're not all going to be great listeners, but we can all practice the skill and we can all work on it. What you'll often find is that as you become a better listener, people become better communicators around you. And the more you're able to listen, truly listen to what they're saying, the more you can start to understand who they are without judgment and without pre-conditions. We all make assumptions about people, and often those assumptions can colour our communication skills with them if we are able to ask questions to clarify what they really mean, and to even ask those uncomfortable questions, which we talked about in the previous episodes, so make sure you listen to that. We can really start to understand ourselves, our businesses, and our customers better. But if we're too afraid to ask questions, then we're never really listening.

Chaz: (14:22)

Mike drops. Amazing .

Motso: (14:31)

Thank you, Gina, for those insights. You've given us so much to think about. You can find the links to all Gina's books in the episode description. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast to catch a bonus episode where we peek into why empathy matters within the marketing and making your business better and stronger than ever.


Chaz: (14:50)

Check out the blog post connected to this episode at spitfireinbound.com. We'd love for you to like, follow, and subscribe to our podcast, and for you to leave us a review. If you like this episode, remember to tag us on social media on the handle @spitfireinbound, and you can drop any thoughts on today's episode or questions for Gina on our social, using the hashtag #TakeFlight #ActiveListening. Thanks again, and see you soon. Bye.

Motso: (15:20)


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