Active (Skilled) Listening & Being a Human Flamethrower


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When it comes to communication, there’s a big difference between listening to someone, and making someone feel listened to. To this point, I actually prefer the term skilled listening to active listening because it does feel more like a skill that you can develop as opposed to something that just requires participation to be successful at.

Active listening, or skilled listening, isn’t just nodding your head and making eye contact. Yes, it involves those. And, being a great listener is the intention of making the other person feel listened to which requires more presence and awareness and attentiveness on your part.

Being a great listener involves the intention of making the other person feel listened to.

Great leaders and coworkers understand that listening isn’t just about information being passed from one person to the next - it’s about the impact you’re making in real time on that person.

When you interact with the intent of making someone feel listened to, you’re naturally more aware of your body language; putting down your phone, closing your laptop, stopping what you’re doing to tune in, and giving eye contact.

It also involves responding in a way that conveys that you heard and understood the message. I acknowledge that when I say listening and refer to communication, that can take a million different forms and/or contexts. Depending on the context of the situation, this might look like a ton of different things including:

  1. Repeating back and summarizing what was said for clarity.

  2. Asking follow up questions, if you have any.

  3. Asking if they’re done sharing before you respond.

  4. Giving a thumbs up with eye contact and saying “Got it.“

  5. Depending on the situation it could even involve you asking them if they feel like you heard them and are both on the same page.

Regardless of the context, the objective is to show up in the conversation in a way that causes the other person to feel heard. Just this simple goal will level up your presence in communication with everyone in your life.

Part Two: Are you a human flamethrower?

The other part of this conversation is how you make people feel with your response when you receive information or ideas from someone else.

How you respond when someone shares an idea, or personal story, or information with you plays a big part in their overall willingness to share ideas, etc. as well as how or what they choose to communicate with you at all.

Here’s a great question to ask yourself: based on the way that you receive information from other people, would you want to share an idea with you? Would you want to tell you a personal story or share a success with you?

Are you a human flame-thrower when someone has an idea or tells a personal story around you? If your instant reaction is to tell them all the reasons it won’t work, or to crap on their idea, or pipe up with a better version of your own story to make yourself look good, then yes. You probably are, at least at times, a human flamethrower.

You probably are, at least at times, a human flamethrower.

Some people cannot avoid making conversations about themselves, waiting for their turn to talk, constantly puking their opinions on others, and bringing up all the ways that everything won’t work. Check yourself. Doing this is a kill switch for building trust and connection, relationships, and creativity.

*Clarification. Am I suggesting to never have an opinion? Or to keep your mouth shut when you see a problem with a project or potential issue? Or never share a story about yourself? Nope, I’m not doing any of that. I’m simply suggesting that you use a heightened sense of discretion when doing these things and be aware of how you’re impacting other people with your choice of words, body language, and the context of what you are saying.

Take a beat in the moment to ask yourself if they need a response from you, or a fix, or if they just need to be listened to.

You are 100% responsible for what it feels like to talk to you. Own that.

Even better, try this instead of guessing: ask them what they want or need from you before you respond. You’ll be amazed at how often your assumption is wrong about what they’d like from you in that moment.

Even if you believe you’re a stellar listener, this is a great moment for a pause and to start being more aware of how you show up as a listener. Remember that you are 100% responsible for what it feels like to talk to you. Own that.

This content was created by keynote speaker Galen Emanuele for the #shiftyestribe. Free leadership and team culture content centered on a new focus every month. Subscribe to the Shift Yes Tribe at