Arguably the most important skill for effective personal communication (as a manager or otherwise) is to be able to use active listening. Based on the work of Carl Rogers, this process is seen as part of a manager’s job, but the listener must have true empathy for and trust in the speaker’s ability to self-direct, or else it is impossible to truly listen actively. Rogers and Farson indicate that active listening is “the art of listening for meaning”  and that this requires careful listening, but even this alone is not sufficient.

Active listening brings about better self- understanding for the speaker who becomes “more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic and less authoritarian”. The listener also benefits by obtaining more information from the speaker, developing deep positive relation- ships, and constructively improving attitudes.

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To achieve these results, the active listener must use the following techniques.

• Listen for meaning, not just content. Messages and conversations have content, but content can be surrounded by additional contextual information. For example, a colleague could tell you, “I just completed the quarterly report for the new project we’re starting,” and you would be likely to give a positive response. Suppose that colleague told you instead, “I finally got done with the quarterly report for the director’s pet project—now I can do some real work!” You would probably understand that a significantly different set of meanings was intended by your colleague. Even if you gave the same content response, such as “Congratulations!” it might be construed differently in the two situations by your colleague. In the first situation, you might find the meaning given to your word as a straightforward and supportive acknowledgement. In the second situation, however, your coworker might assume you are being ironic, which could still be seen as supportive, but might be interpreted as disrespectful by the director if you were overheard.

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