What is the Rationale for Active Listening?

Date: November 12th, 2012

By Dr. Thomas Gordon

To prevent or minimize misunderstandings in person-to-person communication would be sufficient reason for leaders to make the effort to become competent Active Listeners. But other reasons are equally compelling.

For the last several decades some psychologists have been attempting to identify the critical ingredients in human Leadership Training with Active Listeningrelationships that foster personal growth and psychological health. This intensive search, which initially focused only on identifying the characteristics and behavior of effective professional helping agents (counselors and psychotherapists), eventually led some to study the personal qualities of effective teachers, effective marriage partners, and effective parents. Rather conclusive evidence emerged that at least two ingredients are necessary in any relationship of one person fostering growth and psychological health in another—empathy and acceptance.

Empathy is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others and understand their “personal world of meaning”—how they view their reality, how they feel about things. Active Listening performs this very function. A climate in which a person can frequently feel empathically understood is conducive to that person’s overall psychological health and personal growth. I believe this happens primarily because such a climate facilitates problem-solving, which results in greater need satisfaction. When people solve problems and get their needs satisfied, they are freed to move farther up Maslow’s pyramid toward the higher level needs, discovering new ways of finding ¬self-¬achievement and ¬self-¬development.

Acceptance, you will recall, is feeling good about what a person is doing, and “Acceptable Behaviors” belong in the top area of the Behavior Window:

Obviously we have no need to change acceptable behaviors, and so we can accept the other person just as she is at the moment (the behavior is not interfering with our own needs getting met). Passive Listening, Acknowledgment Responses, and particularly Active Listening are the verbal responses (or vehicles) for communicating acceptance because they communicate clearly:

• I hear what you are feeling.

• I understand how you are seeing things now.

• I see you as you are right now.

• I am interested and concerned.

• I understand where you are now.

• I have no desire to change you.

• I do not judge or evaluate you.

• You don’t have to feel afraid of my censure.

In sharp contrast to Passive Listening, Acknowledgment Responses, and Active Listening, certain other messages typically communicate the listener’s desire or intent to change the helpee—a need to direct her behavior or influence her to behave differently. These responses slow down or inhibit problem-solving, which is why I have named them the—[can anyone guess what these are??]

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