Chapter 9: Effective Communication

9.2 Active Listening

Listening is a key piece of the communication process. Experts say that we only remember 25-50% of what we hear. That means that during a ten minute conversation, we may only keep track of two to five minutes of what was said! Think about the impact of only hearing half of the directions that you receive on the job (Mindtools, n.d.).  Think about what you don’t hear your employer, client, or co-workers say. We all can work to improve our listening skills so that we are less likely to miss important information in a conversation.

Active listening can help you become a better listener. Active listening takes place when you make a conscious effort to hear the complete message. Think back to our communication model, active listening means paying attention to the message and decoding it to understand the message as the sender intended it. This means not only paying attention to the message but also asking for feedback to check that you’re understanding the message as it was intendedHere are some strategies to help you become an active listener:

  • Mentally focus on the sender and the message. Look at the speaker directly, set aside distracting thoughts, forget about forming your response and focus on listening. Try to shut out all other distractions and concentrate on the words and message. Sometimes repeating key pieces of information can be helpful.
  • Maintain eye contact. In a Canadian workplace, you will be expected to look someone in the eye as you talk to them. This is a way of conveying respect and showing you care about what the person is saying.
  • Show that you are listening. Use non-verbal and verbal cues, such as nodding in agreement or saying “I understand” will help you to remain focused. Also, assume a posture that feels confident and interested.
  • Engage in the message. Offer feedback when appropriate and ask clarifying questions that promote discovery and insight.
  • Paraphrase the information. To ensure proper understanding, it may be helpful to rephrase or summarize what you heard. This will ensure that the message has been properly understood and clarify meaning in the moment. For example, repeating the date and time of the appointment the client just booked will ensure that you both understand the same information.
  • Control your emotions. Becoming defensive or anxious will interfere with your brain’s ability to take in information. Remain calm and objective, focusing on listening, until you can process all of the information and the emotions that may go with it.
  • Don’t interrupt. Rather wait until the sender has given the full message before asking questions or adding more information.
  • Remove or reduce distractions. If you can remove any communication barriers, you will be more likely to focus on the message. This may mean you need to put someone on hold, move to a new environment, pause a video, or adjust the volume.
  • Take notes. Write down key pieces of information to help you remember them. They also will give you a point of reference later, which can be crucial if you do a task infrequently.
  • Read more than once. If the communication is in print, skim the writing quickly and then re-read for clarity and understanding. Again, make notes or try underlining key points to help you remember.
  • Use a notebook. It is a good idea to keep a notebook handy when you are new to a job. This ensures that all the notes you take are in the same place. Also, employers and supervisors appreciate it when you don’t repeatedly ask the same questions (Mindtools, n.d.).


Let’s look at some more scenarios and see what active listening strategies could be helpful for Talia. (Check all answers that apply)

  1. Talia is working her first opening shift. Denise, her supervisor, has written her a list of tasks that need to be completed as part of the opening routine.
    1. Talia reads the list before Denise leaves for the day and clarifies any information she is not clear about.
    2. Talia has watched Denise open a number of times and doesn’t believe she needs the list.
    3. Talia waits to read the list until her afternoon break when she can sit quietly in the break room.
    4. Talia reads the list and makes notes on the sheet.
  2. Talia accidentally forgot to have a client pay for the service before they left. Talia’s boss asks her to come to her office to discuss the matter.
    1. Talia sets aside her nerves and focuses on Dr. Jones, listening carefully and setting her emotions aside.
    2. Talia listens to what Dr. Jones has to say and when she is finished Talia calmly asks what she can do about the situation.
    3. Talia immediately begins to apologize and cuts off Dr. Jones mid-sentence.
    4. Talia starts to catastrophize the situation in her and is sure that she will be let go.
  3. Due to Talia’s comfort with the animals, professionalism, and competence, she has been asked to help assist one of the veterinary technicians with a procedure. Before the procedure, the technician explains carefully what Talia will need to do during the procedure.
    1. Talia has seen this procedure done several times on her own animals and believes she doesn’t need the instructions.
    2. Talia is so excited she can barely think straight.
    3. Talia listens carefully to the instructions and asks clarifying questions when appropriate.
    4. Even though Talia knows she won’t have time to look at her notebook, she takes careful notes during the explanation and reviews them on her lunch break.
  4. The waiting room is busy and there are several lines of the phone ringing at once. The client Talia is speaking with would like to book an appointment for Friday afternoon.
    1. Talia opens the booking app on the computer and calmly finds Friday, she books the appointment for the client repeating the pertinent information.
    2. Talia politely asks the client on the phone if they could hold for a moment, places them on hold, takes the payment from the client she was working with, and then goes back to the client on the phone.
    3. Talia quickly jots down the information barely saying a word to the client.
    4. Talia writes the appointment on a scrap of paper promising she will enter it after while taking a payment for another client at the same time.


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Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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