One-on-one coaching between a coach and an employee

Skills for Effective Mentoring: Active Listening

February 2, 2024

Posted by BOLDLY

Active Listening

Listening is a conscious activity which requires attention. Rather than waiting to speak, you need to listen attentively to fully understand the other person. Remember, there is no point in asking a question if you do not intend to listen carefully to the answer! Listening fully - or actively means putting everything else out of your mind and acknowledging the other person so they have feedback that you are listening properly and valuing what they have to say. 

Understanding and valuing does not mean agreeing; active listening is particularly valuable in situations of conflict or disagreement, where if the other party feels you understand their viewpoint, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created which increases the possibility of resolving the conflict. 

Key Listening Skills

  • Let the your mentee do the talking
  • Be quiet and actively encourage your mentee to talk; promote their willingness to communicate
  • Avoid interrupting
  • Avoid pre-judging what’s being said (rather, make sure you focus on understanding precisely what your mentee means. One strategy includes re-phrasing what was being said) 
  • Avoid starting to think about your answer or response to your mentee (wait until your mentee has finished - active listening is hard work and needs 100% of your concentration)
  • Don’t finish their sentences or fill in the blanks – no matter how tempting!
  • Notice non-verbal communication ie, body language, tone and pitch of the voice – listen for feelings and emotions, as much as facts and words.
  • Be comfortable with silence. Staying silent gives time and opportunity for your mentee to share extra information. It may feel odd initially, but you will be amazed how often more information emerges after a moment’s silence. 
  • Listen inquisitively and strategically 
  • Inquisitive listening - actively looking for interesting ‘bits’ of information in what is being said that will help formulate a solution or answer
  • Strategic listening - going beyond the words to understand the your mentee’s real motivations and driving forces and/or needs. This involves listening ‘between the lines’ and hearing the things that were ‘not said’ as well as those that were. 
  • Use questions effectively (see below). 
  • Reflect back the information you receive to illustrate your understanding and provide opportunities for clarification. Use paraphrasing, acknowledgment and reflective statements. 

Some common mistakes made by people who think they are actively listening, but aren’t really, include: 

  • Cursory listening; just going through the motions but the listener is either multi-tasking or not really interested in what’s being said. 
  • Shallow listening; the listener believes they already know what the speaker is leading to and already knows the answer or what they are going to say next. This type of listening is often underpinned by arrogance and the listener fails to hear what is actually being said. 

Active listening takes time and focus to achieve; used effectively it opens up a whole new level on which to communicate and build relationships. 

Looking for more resources?

Mentoring programs for organisations

How does mentoring differ from coaching?