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Communication Challenges

Communication Challenges

Author: Essential Skills

Describe how active listening can help you become a better communicator at work.

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Think about a time when your message didn’t come across clearly.... What went wrong? How did you fix it? Communication challenges in the workplace aren’t uncommon. In many cases, becoming a better listener can easily fix the problem!

Active listening
is considered active because it requires the listener to do something—to pay close attention, to remain open to the speaker’s point of view, and to summarize the key points of the message.

Not only will active listening help you be a better communicator at work, it’ll also help you navigate your personal relationships outside of the workplace, because when you actively listen you’re better able to interpret the meaning behind what people say and empathize with their point of view. 

The practice of active listening emerged from the work of psychologist Thomas Gordon (1974), who developed it as a way to help parents become better listeners. The goal of active listening is always to understand other people, no matter how they express themselves, which can be done by

  • analyzing a speaker’s message and giving your full attention, 
  • avoiding judging the speaker for what is being said, and 
  • responding to the speaker appropriately.

One strategy for active listening is paying attention to nonverbal cues, whether they come from a tone of voice or body language. Active listening isn’t just hearing what a speaker is saying—it’s observing how that person is saying it.

Although we tend to associate communication with words, much of our communication happens without using words. In fact, UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian created a formula to illustrate just how much of our communication happens nonverbally (Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967). According to Mehrabian, whenever we’re listening, 93% of a message’s meaning comes from the speaker’s nonverbal cues (such as facial expressions and pitch of voice), while just 7% of the meaning comes through the words the speaker says.

think about it
How can you tell when someone is actively listening to you during a conversation?
How do you convey to others that you are listening?