The Relationship Journey – Active Listening: the 12 Elements (Part 2)

Here is the sixth in a series of brief (this one is a bit longer) blogs introducing The Relationship Journey in my chapter on Active Listening from The Journey Inside.  Today is all about Active Listening (part 2 of 3).


The opportunity to actively listen to another person should not be underestimated.  It is an honour and a privilege.  To be in this space will have been earned, it is not a given.  People don’t open up to just anyone.

At an unconscious level, we are always testing the other person out.  How much can I reveal to them before they signal me to stop or when they can’t take any more?  This can be revealed, for example, in the speaker starting to get emotional about something, maybe even tearful.  Rather than letting the speaker express themselves fully, the listener seeks to interrupt, change the subject, make a joke, anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable.

All of our good work can be quickly undone if we allow ourselves to get distracted.

There are many, so here are three of them


Technology is the most obvious and the most cited as being a distraction.  Anyone sitting in front of you whilst you are talking who has their mobile in their hand or on the table, their laptop open in front of them, will have some of their attention on their device.  It does not matter how good we think we are at not doing so, we can’t help but notice.  Every message appearing, every buzz, vibration, or bleep, will be heard and registered.  Even if they don’t look, their mind is now wondering about the interruption.

It is said that even if the mobile is on the table in front of you, whether it is face down and/or switched off, the depth and quality of what is shared will be more shallow and poorer.  It is like having a third chair around the table and metaphorically, any of our contacts turning up and speaking.  With that as the scenario, the speaker will be less forthcoming.

The solution is simple, turn it off and put it out of sight.

During his recent concert tour, Ed Sheeran decided that he would prohibit the use of mobiles in the auditorium.  They used lockable bags so that the owner could keep hold of their phones.  In the event of a call, the owner had to go out of the auditorium to get it unlocked.

He reasoned that when a large proportion of the audience is experiencing the concert through a screen, firstly, they are not getting the full experience and second, and more importantly, he has little or no idea how the audience is reacting or responding to his music.

When the speaker, in this case, Ed, is unsure if the audience is listening, it interrupts his flow, and does not think so well, which in turn means he does not perform so well.

Which leads nicely into…

Multi-tasking or multi-focusing

If I asked for a yes or no as to whether or not you can multi-task, most people would say, “Yes, of course”.  On one level I would agree.  After all, we can drive a car, listen to the radio and talk to the person next to us.  For sure, the quality of our listening goes down, and some may argue, our driving too.  Not so bad, but enough for it to be noticeable.

This goes well whilst the driving is easy, the conversation light, and the radio is playing music.  We can easily flip-flop between all three.

Where it goes wrong or has to shift quickly is when something significant happens on any one of these three streams.  For example, the traffic comes to a standstill suddenly causing you to take evasive action, or you hear on the radio that an explosion has happened in central London and there are hundreds of dead or injured.  When this happens, you cease multi-tasking and start focusing.

I believe that we can’t multi-focus, and we certainly can’t multi-focus when we are actively listening.

Bring to mind a conversation where you were talking, and you knew you were not getting the listener’s full focus or attention.  We just knew, didn’t we?

The solution is to give the speaker your full attention.  For the duration of this conversation, believe that the speaker is the most important person in your life.  If you can’t do this, then explain to the speaker what is going on and agree when you will be able to be fully present.  The speaker will appreciate your honesty.


One of the biggest complaints I receive from individuals is that they get interrupted before they have finished speaking. I am sure you can think of many situations where you have been interrupted, and if you are really honest, where you have interrupted someone.

Why do we do it?

  • We know best or think we do.
  • We know what you are going to say.
  • I am too busy, so interrupting gets things done quicker.
  • I am excited, so I have to speak.
  • They need to get their words out quicker.
  • I have just thought of something, I was triggered by what the speaker said.
  • You want to feel part of the conversation, not speaking is difficult. Yes, it is!
  • Everyone else is doing it…so that makes it okay.

But, it is not okay.

Responses from the exercise on non-listening, include, it is rude and disrespectful.

Having said all of this, if you have to interrupt do so politely.


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

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  1. Loved every word, Colin.

    A story came back to me reading about driving and listening. The driver uttered a fierce “shut up, or you’ll do the driving.” The driver was my husband, the passengers his CEO and his COO, and the place was trying to get out of Heathrow airport – which to this American bunch required driving through roundabouts in the opposite side of the road.

    Dead quiet fell over the car.

    • Thank you Charlotte for your story.

      I wonder what else was going on for your husband at this time?

      PS driving is one of my Achilles heels a my partner would tell me…so I continue to be work in progress 🙂

  2. Thank you Mac, what a thoughtful and wonderful reply 🙂

    I concur, silence and stillness is a novelty for our brain. Not because we don’t have the ability, just we have replaced it with ‘stuff’, and like many other situations the more we make ‘stuff’ the go to habit, we forget what silence and stillness feels like.

    For me the starting point before listening to anyone, is to quiet and still myself such that I can see and hear the person in front of me. Second to create that safe place, for them to quiet and still themselves such that they (the true person in front of me), can be seen and heard by me. A beautiful symbiotic relationship.

    Take care Mac and speak again soon


  3. Wonderful, Colin.
    We have so much input – even growing up for us more seasoned veterans of breathing – TV and radio and ear buds when we walk. Our brains aren’t accustomed to STILL, so like most novelty, we either react to silence with “Oh, boy!” (like a new car) or “Watch out!” (as if lack of auditory stimulation threatens us with self-reflection – OMG!). The second seems to be prevalent.
    Since I took mediation training and started working on listening better, I find as many opportunities as I can during the day to monotask (as John Ciardi said, “The pleasure of taking pains . . .”). If I’m on a road trip, I spend a good part of the time (good=substantial + good=the opposite of bad) with no audio, even though I love music and podcasts.
    If we can find those spaces of still, we can become more comfortable with listening as something akin to breath, a new default setting and a place of, as my brother Fred suggests, “soft walls.”
    be well,