The Importance of Active Listening

Many of us with functioning eardrums can hear. But do we listen?

Hearing is automatic, but listening takes effort. To actively listen, we need to put down our phones, take out our earbuds, and focus on another human being for a period of time. There is a kind of mindfulness that needs to be practiced. We need to stop thinking about what we have to do next, and take the time to focus on the individual in front of us.

Listening – really listening – is an essential function of Public Relations. We need to listen to clients. We need to listen to stakeholders. We need to listen to publics. We need to listen to allies. And we need to listen to opponents. It’s the right thing to do.

Listening also is crucial in strategic communications planning. As PR practitioners, we need to understand what an organization wants to get accomplished before creating objectives and strategies. “What does a win look like?” is a question I often ask clients seeking PR help. Listening to their responses is key to ensuring those expectations are met.

I often talk to my college students about active listening. Theirs is a generation that was raised on electronic devices and social media. They have been bombarded their whole lives with millions of messages designed to alter their thoughts and actions. In class, I ask them to put away their laptops, phones, and thoughts and actively listen to their classmates give presentations. I realize it is not always easy.

In 2016, Pope Francis delivered a message on the importance of listening. He said, “Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers.”

There is an ethical component to listening. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, and respecting others. We show we care about people when we listen.

I have not always lived up to that ideal. Too often, I talk when I should actively listen. I am trying to improve and learning to listen. It isn’t easy, but it is the right thing to do.