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6 Steps To Powerful Listening

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The ability to listen effectively has never been more important.

Most organisations are going through change.

Adopting home working and video meetings are now becoming the nom.

Take this example, you join a video conference call.

You’re one of nine faces on the screen.

About 10 minutes into the call, your mind starts to wander and you realize you have no idea what the last person just said.

You pretend to keep listening while also checking your inbox.

By the end of the meeting, you’ve caught up on some email but ultimately feel like it was another waste of time.

For many of us right now, this scenario sounds all too familiar.

Now, there is a lot of sound advice about how leaders can run more effective virtual meetings. While this advice is critical, what is often overlooked is the role that listeners play in ensuring a meeting’s success.

A great listening techniques used by successful coaches that helps develop an understanding of others and improve their relationships is called “active constructive responding” (ACR)

This technique enables you to listen at a deeper level in comparison to how most people listen.

The table below lists the different levels of listening that a lot of us use:


Typical Leadership Behaviour

Typical Leader's thoughts and emotions

1) Ignoring

The leader does not maintain eye contact, but engages with their phone, email or engages in another task. They may interrupt the speaker with the question they have formed.

The leader’s thoughts and emotions are engaged on other tasks.

2) Waiting my turn to talk

The leader may appear to be listening by making eye contact, nodding occasionally or give verbal attentions.

They may interrupt the speaker with the questions they have formed.

The leader’s thoughts are focused on something other than what the speaker is saying. For example, preparing their next question.

Their emotions may be centred on their experience rather than the speaker.

3) Listening to the words

The leader makes eye contact, nods and gives verbal attention to demonstrate listening. The leader may summarise what the speaker has said.

The leaders thoughts are focused on the content of the words used by the speaker.

4) Listening to words and body language (active listening)

The leader is focused on the speaker. They use their eyes and ears to listen what is being said in words and actions. The leader may summarise and reflect back their understanding of what they hear and see.

The leaders thoughts are on the words and body language.

The focus is still on the leader's response to the speaker rather than on the emotional experience of the speaker.

5) Empathetic listening

The leader is wholly focussed on the speaker – is listening with their eyes and ears.

Based on the cognition the leader may reflect back what they see or imagine is being felt in a sensitive, appropriate way avoiding labelling.

The leader is using their Emotional Intelligence to make sense of what the speaker may be feeling and to imagine what feelings the speaker may be experiencing.

6) Active Constructive Listening (ACL)

In addition to the action in 4, the leader will be seeking to also constructively respond by focusing on the positive aspect to enhance pride, joy and self regard.

The leader is maintaining a positive "mind frame" and whilst using their Emotional Intelligence, as in 5, is actively seeking to focus on the positive emotions.

Ref:Jonathan Passmore & Lindsay G Oades, The Coaching Psychologist Vol 10, Dec 2014

The sixth step uses Emotional Intelligence to actively constructively respond to colleagues and teams.

The ACR technique of listening and responding makes the leader take a positive stance towards colleagues and teams through active listening and responding to what they have heard at the verbal and non-verbal level.

The difference is clear to see in the example provided below:

Typical Response
Active constructive

Five mins into a conversation Bob (sales director) excitedly tells Rupert (leader) his latest sales forecast based on a new global client.

Great – you got it – that is fantastic news.


What do we need to do to make this happen?

I am so pleased Bob. I am pleased because I know you and your team have worked really hard with that client over the last 6 months and you deserve this....well done.. I am really proud of what you and your team have accomplished....your strategy worked.

Rather than simply acknowledging Bob’s success, the leader uses the ACR technique to respond to Bob's emotions (excitement), body language and provide positive feedback.


Ok perhaps you may think the example is a "bit over the top" but it does demonstrate how this technique works. 

The leader's response explains why he is excited (Bob's hard work and strategy). Importantly, the leader also attaches an emotional content to his feedback (pride) which makes the feedback sound more authentic and more affirming.

It shows that the leader understands what Bob has achieved on a personal level as well as a financial level. 

This simple and understandable technique assists leaders (coaches) to improve their relationships by enabling them to respond more actively and constructively, observing and reflecting back when things go right for their colleagues and peers (Oades & Passmore 2014), building better relationships and improving performance.

Leaders in organisations spend up to 80% of their time talking and understanding others, therefore changing the nature of how people communicate and work with each other can be the single most powerful way a leader can bring about performance breakthrough.

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