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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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4.1 Active listening

Active listening’ is a technique that can help you to concentrate on what other people are really saying.

Active listening helps to:

  • Avoid misunderstandings. Many rows develop mainly from misconception and misunderstanding. ‘Getting the wrong end of the stick’ happens to all of us and can cause confusion, mistakes or duplication of effort.
  • Build relationships. Active listening demonstrates respect for, and acceptance of, the other person. By acknowledging how things are for others and taking them seriously (regardless of whether we end up agreeing with them), we build the firmest possible foundations for a good working relationship. Indeed, active listening helps to ensure that the other person will treat you seriously, in turn.
  • Encourage people to say more and to say it frankly. One of the reasons that authoritarian organisations are ineffective is because people at the bottom dare not tell those ‘at the top’ what is really happening.
  • Give people some ‘space’ to sort out and make sense of their ideas about an issue. Active listening is a powerful technique for helping people articulate what is on their minds, especially when they are ‘stuck’ on or uncertain about a difficult problem.

Activity 5 Thinking about active listening

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Write some notes on situations where active listening might be useful.

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Here are some of the contexts in which active listening could be particularly useful:

  • when you and a colleague are disagreeing
  • when you are being given guidance or instructions by your ‘boss’
  • when you are meeting a new colleague or working with someone for the first time
  • when someone comes to you with a problem that he or she wants to talk over
  • when you are sought out as a ‘sounding board’ for ideas
  • when you are receiving a report on the progress of a project or on how an event went
  • when ‘coaching’ a less experienced member of your team to improve his or her performance.