Book review: The Art of Active Listening

Listening. Listening. Listening. I know how important it is, but I also know how hard I sometimes find to truly listen. I guess I’m not unique when I miss half of what the other person is saying because I’m so preoccupied with what I’m going to say in response. This realisation prompted me to read The Art of Active Listening by Josh Gibson and Fynn Walker. These are my key takeaways from reading this book:

What is active listening?

The difference between “active listening” and “normal listening” was my first learning from reading “The Art of Active Listening”. The authors of the book, Josh Gibson and Fynn Walker, make it pretty clear from the outset that there are only two communication states: actively listening, and not really listening. Gibson and Walker then go on to explain that active listening is the art of listening for meaning; active listening requires you to understand, interpret, and evaluate what you’re being told.

With active listening, your attention should be on the speaker. This means that whenever you feel an inner urge to say something, to respond, try to stop this urge and instead concentrate on what’s being said. Just to give you a personal example from how this urge often manifests itself when I listen:

Speaker: “So we decided to do X, Y, Z.This felt like the best approach, because …

Me — thinking: “Why did they decide to do XYZ, that doesn’t make sense!” — Thus completely ignoring the “because” part of the speaker’s statement

It’s easy to see from this example how people like me run the risk of missing critical bits of a conversation, purely because the focus is on the response instead of on listening actively.

Importance of active listening

In the book, Gibson and Walker explain why it’s so important to actively listen:

To me, active listening is the key to empathy and relationship building. I liked Gibson and Walker’s simple breakdown of human communication: “In simple terms, speaking is one person reaching out, and listening is another person accepting and taking hold. Together, they form communication, and this is the basis of all human relationships.”

7 common barriers to active listening

Learning about the seven common barriers to active listening was my biggest takeaway from “The Art of Active Listening”. In the book, Gibson and Walker point out the typical barriers that most of us deal with when listening:

4 components of active listening

With the four components of active listening that are pointed out in the book, the onus is on the listener to develop these components:

Tips to improve your active listening skills

The book provides some useful pointers on how you can best improve your active listening skills, explaining the essence of each tip outlined here:

The main principles of reflective listening

Once you’ve listened actively, “reflective listening” is what comes next. Reflective listening is concerned with how you process what you’ve heard. The four components of active listening — acceptance, honesty, empathy and specifics — all work towards creating reflective responses in the listener. The main principles of active listening are:

Main learning point: Understanding more about the common barriers to active listening — and how to best overcome these — was my biggest takeaway from reading “The Art of Active Listening”. The book does a great job at offering practical tips on how to listen actively and how to better process the things you’ve heard.

Related links for further learning:

Written by

Product at ASOS, author of "My Product Management Toolkit", family, boxing and founder of @hiphoplistings and blogging via http://t.co/uGr5nRye

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