The Power of Active Listening in Communication

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is active listening? Why is active listening important in communication?

Active listening is an invaluable communication skill. In simple terms, active listening is listening to understand, not to respond. Active listening does not only help to understand the other person’s perspective but it’s also a great way to foster connection through disclosure; when you actively listen, people share more.

Read about the importance of active listening in communication.

Good Communication Needs Active Listening

Active listening forces the listener to put their ego aside and listen intently with the sole intention to understand the other party’s message. While they may speak up occasionally to ask a clarifying question or offer guidance, active listeners keep their focus on the other person. In contrast, constantly thinking of what you’re going to say next prevents you from taking in and processing the words of the other person. 

When you actively listen, the other person feels heard and supported as they express their concerns and fears. The most effective active listeners:

  • Make the speaker feel secure.
  • Come at the conversation from a supportive stance.
  • Ask occasional questions that gently challenge the speaker to dig deeper into an issue or obstacle.
  • Make occasional suggestions to lead the speaker down alternative paths.

The Power of Active Listening

Dr. Carl Marci developed a method through which he could scientifically track the connection between people via galvanic skin response (an indicator of emotional response determined by a change in electrical resistance in the skin). In his experiments, Marci noticed moments in which the responses in the skin of both the speaker and the listener would sync up. He called these moments concordances. Concordances typically occurred when one of the individuals involved in the conversation stopped speaking and put all of their energy into listening to the other party. 

In a specific example, Marci recorded a session between himself and his therapist in which he spoke about his experience proposing to his then-girlfriend. While Marci spoke, his therapist only responded in affirmative nods, smiles, and noises. Despite his lack of speech, the data showed that the session contained several moments of concordance. Instead of speaking, his therapist listened. Rather than interrupt or intervene, he tried to process and understand Marci’s point of view. Through active listening, Marci’s therapist connected to Marci without saying a word.

The Power of Active Listening in Communication

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Culture Code summary :

  • Why safety, vulnerability, and purpose are at the heart of a healthy group culture
  • What makes some organizations more successful as a whole
  • How one of the largest unsanctioned cease fires came one Christmas Eve during WWI

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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