Listen Actively – Not Passively

Seldom in our lives do we have the experience of ‘being genuinely listened to.’

Most of us are far too busy to be bothered by others and their concerns because we are focused on our own issues and how to resolve them.

Even within families we may have had the experience of wanting to talk openly about an issue, but somehow never felt that the moment was right to talk about it. Or maybe the moment was right, we started to talk and suddenly felt the supposed listener was not listening at all and may even have shown irritation at being hijacked as a victim of the exercise.

Dr. Thomas Gordon in his book, Parent Effectiveness Training, talks about the way psychologists are trained to listen and how those skills could be useful in almost all everyday contacts with people around us. He calls the process ‘Active Listening’ which looks more like ‘Active Questioning’ than listening. The idea is to listen to the underlying issues beneath the words or between the lines rather than the content that is being verbalized. Secondly, listen non-judgmentally without prejudice.

In his weekly coaching call, Steve G. said to me: “Have you ever had a boss talk to one of your staff members and give them instructions without informing you – their manager?”

I said: “So your boss by-passed you, gave instructions to some of your people and left you out of the loop? That must have irritated you!”

“I was fuming!” he said. “One of my people came and asked me whether he was their new boss instead of me.”

“That must have made you feel even worse.”

“Yes! I felt that he had completely undermined my authority and made me look stupid in the eyes of my group.”

“So you are going to talk to him about it?” I asked.

“Yes. I will bring it up before our weekly meeting on Thursday and tell him that what he did was hurtful and made me feel small and unimportant.”

Once I had created an opportunity for Steve to express what was really bothering him, he felt much better. Talking about it, without feeling I was judging him, made it easier for him to tell me his story.

The real issue was not that his boss gave instructions to his group without informing him, it was that he felt his boss ‘undermined his authority which made him feel stupid and undervalued’.

Active Listening is accessing what is being said underneath the words – not what is being said on the surface.

  • Give others the experience of “being genuinely listened to”.
  • Active Listening means accessing what is happening between the lines, not necessarily what is being said superficially.

This is an extract from: The Greatest Book on Coaching for Small Business – an audio-version narrated by Terry Ostrowiak

Listen to the rest of this audio-book by accessing it from: or contact me at

The 2nd edition, The Greatest Business Coaching Book, is also available in hard-copy or Kindle format.

Management, Leadership, Communication Skills, Human Relations, Executive Skills, Coaching, Training, Self-Development, Business-Skills.

Author: Terry Ostrowiak

Terry Ostrowiak is a Business Catalyst who assists open-minded executives to achieve Quantum Leap Results, targets and goals, faster and more easily than they could do it on their own.

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