Ako ki te whakarongo; whakarongo ki te ako.

While public speaking may not be on your bucket list, it is never too late to learn the many ways to communicate powerfully. Speaking, (whether in a one-on-one conversation or in a conference room), is the most common form of communication. However, I believe active listening is equally as important.


Ako ki te whakarongo; whakarongo ki te ako.

Learn to listen; listen to learn.


What is Active Listening?


Active listening is the art of engaging your attention fully (both physically and mentally) while someone is speaking.

Active listening involves simple courtesies such as not texting or scrolling on your phone as well as proper body language. Making eye contact, nodding your head, and repeating back what the speaker is saying are all forms of active listening and respect.

Imagine being up on stage and your audience is looking at their cell phones, doodling, or daydreaming. The adage of, “If you don’t want it done to you, don’t do it to others,” certainly applies when it comes to active listening. Who knows, you may learn something new or even come away with a new appreciation for someone you never really knew at all, simply by listening.


Active Listening Improves Communication

There are many benefits of improving your active listening skills.

For example,

  • When listening to gather information, we can obtain valuable insight to help us make better choices.
  • When listening to understand, we create a connection with the speaker.
  • When listening for pure enjoyment, we reap the rewards of filling our spirit with joy and laughter.
  • When we listen to learn, we can take our life’s direction to a whole new level.


Additionally, active listening improves communication between yourself and others. Active listening is being intentional about listening to what the speaker is saying as well as what they are not saying. When you take on the practice of becoming an active listener, you improve your life in many ways.

First, let us look at what the practice of active listening looks like.

Have you ever driven to work on the same route every day?

Do you notice how you arrive there safely in one piece even though you are running a million other thoughts in your head?

The mind can go into the subconscious while performing conscious acts. While this may prove beneficial while driving to work and planning out your day, it does not work while listening to others.

Active listening begins with the awareness of whether you are, in fact, listening to someone or if you are inside your own head. Active listening is a practice which will require some mental discipline and much practice.

  • Pay intentional attention to the speaker
  • Retrain your focus back to the conversation at hand
  • Do not interject with relatable stories about your own experiences
  • Set clear boundaries and timeframes otherwise it simply becomes a monopoly of time for both the speaker and the listener

Taking on active listening will improve your communication skills on many levels. Active listening improves communication in several ways by:

  • Pay intentional attention to the speaker
  • building rapport
  • creating trust
  • developing a connection
  • creating relatability
  • supporting newly founded relationships
  • people may seek you out to help solve a problem or brainstorm; this could easily translate into a better position in anything from friendships to career
  • others will gravitate toward you which may help create more harmony in relationships, as well
  • active listening opens you up to other people’s point of view and a new understanding of where they are coming from in life
  • active listening provides an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings simply because of hearing one thing while someone is saying quite another
  • learning what makes other people tick is a beneficial skill in interpersonal relationships whether at work or at home.


The Many Types of Listening

While there are many subtypes of listening, there are a few essential staples of powerful listening which will help you become a better listener:


As the name suggests, when you engage in empathetic listening, you are doing so to offer up understanding for the speaker. While the speaker is expressing his or her feelings, you are actively listening to create a connection based on empathy. You are seeking to understand where the speaker is coming from and they, in turn, are seeking to be understood.

When you take the stance of an empathetic listener, you are offering the possibility of having another person feel not only seen but heard. You get to step inside the world of the person speaking for a short time and offer empathy (which is different from sympathy). Empathy is taking on a desire to relate to and understand what someone else is experiencing rather than feeling pity for that individual.


Informative listening again is suggestive by its name – you are listening to gather information. You could be listening to gather information if you are in a lecture hall, watching a political debate, or taking notes for an important presentation you have coming up at work.

Informative listening is listening for the mere sake of needing to gather information to make informed decisions.

Critical Listening

While the above examples were a near match to their descriptions, critical listening has room for a more flexible definition. Critical listening does not mean to listen to someone’s commentary, take notes, and then retaliate or retribute after they are complete. Rather, critical listening means to listen to the information presented, evaluate, and analyze it, and decide using your own judgment and discernment based on the information presented.

Critical listening is valuable when listening to an expert speak on a topic in which he or she is well-versed, but to also discern and evaluate the information presented. Critical listening occurs when we need to follow directions, gather important information that may change the course of an event, pass a test, or evaluate a decision and choice.

Appreciative Listening

Appreciative listening occurs when there is a need to listen for entertainment and pure joy such as listening to music.


The Different Stages of Listening

Listening can happen in many ways, shapes, and forms, and in any order. For example, we could find ourselves engaging in a conversation to simply gather information and suddenly find ourselves intrigued and falling under the empathetic listening stage.

On the other hand, we may also find ourselves listening to understand someone better and discover we have gleaned valuable information as to why this person behaves and speaks the way he or she does. We may not have had this information prior to listening to understand, and now we have informative listening taking place instead.

Click on the infographic to see a few different stages of listening.


How Better Listening Skills Improves Your Life

Have you ever been awe struck either personally or professionally when someone remembered a small detail from a conversation you had together? Isn’t that an amazing experience? What if you could be that for someone else? Imagine the possibilities of furthering your career or creating harmonious relationships by the simple skill of remembering past details.

Remembering past details from a conversation allows the connection between two people to grow deeper. When you take a mental note of something which is important to someone from a conversation and recall it to them in a later conversation, you are closing the gap between the two of you and drawing the person nearer to you. While it might sound like a small detail, it’s very effective and shows you care.

Another aspect of improving listening skills is mirroring someone else’s body language. When you mirror someone else’s body language, you create similarity, commonality, and connection. Have you ever had a conversation where you just met someone and both of you just kept saying, “Me too!”

Mirroring the other person can show up with simple techniques such as crossing your feet the same way they do or shifting from one side of your body weight to the other when they do. Pointing your feet toward someone as opposed to having one foot pointed completely away (think of it as wanting to run away) shows you have an active interest in not only listening, but more importantly learning about them.


Relationships (Significant Others)

When it comes to personal relationships, communication is key. However, even though we all know just how important good communication is with our significant others, it remains one of the hardest things to tackle. It is sometimes hard enough for us to communicate our wants and needs, but to be on the receptive end of listening to others’ wants and needs is even more complex.

Active listening in relationships is not about waiting for the other person to spew out everything that bothers them, waiting for them to finish so you can make your counterpoints. Active listening is about being authentic. When you are authentically engaged in active listening, the other person understands and picks up on the fact you are genuinely interested and care about what they are saying.

When you listen to understand rather than to counterattack, you have much more likelihood of recreating your relationship and directing in a more positive way.


One of the fastest ways to improve your career is to look at your listening skills. When taking a deeper look at your listening skills, see where you can take on conscious listening. Listen for the big picture rather than being bored by the smaller details. Take time to reflect on what the speaker is saying to you. This creates a direct stop and pause moment of the speaker noticing that you are noticing. It becomes memorable to them.

The speaker (let’s say your boss) can relate to someone who is paying attention, interested in the project or task at hand, and associate you with someone who is willing to go the extra mile.

These techniques can lead to better productivity, more responsibility, and/or a promotion.

Whānau & Friends

Have you ever noticed the difference between having a conversation with whānau and friends and coworkers and bosses? Of course, there is a difference. For the most part, we keep ourselves at a distance and put up a wall of professionalism when we are in the workplace. However, when it comes to whānau and friends, we might swing the pendulum too far to one side or the other.

We tend to be more authentic; more of our true selves with whānau and friends than we are with the people we work alongside. Sometimes, though, we can get carried away and have weaker boundaries and listen less when it comes to those closest to us. Try taking on active, conscious listening for one week with whānau and friends and see how much closer you can bring your whānau and friends toward you.

This gives you the opportunity to create deeper bonds, renewed rapport, and more intimacy.


If you are excited about creating the possibility of meeting new people or find yourself extremely uncomfortable in social settings, active listening is the answer. When you take on active, conscious listening, you take the focus off yourself and place the interest on others. This leaves little room for being self-conscious. It is a win-win situation because you are asking open-ended questions, mirroring body language, and authentically listening to get to know someone else better.

You will be memorable to them and it takes the spotlight off you. Social interactions are so much easier when you show more genuine interest in other people than in how you look or sound.


When it comes to education, listening plays a large part in your success. Taking on critical listening to gather information helps you throughout your education. Critical listening offers you the opportunity to take apart information, gather what you need for future reference, and ask the right questions to move yourself forward in your studies. Listening to gather information, and more importantly, to understand and dissect that information will move you forward faster than simply memorizing random facts.

Are you an active listener?

How would you rate your current listening skills? Can you identify areas for improvement?

Our Active Listening Checklist is a simple tool to help you work towards developing, practicing, and enhancing your active listening skills.