Volume 2 Module 1 - Active Listening

Goals of this Module

  • Explain what we mean by active listening and why it is important in working well with other people
  • Help you to score your ability to use active listening
  • Offer tools and techniques to enhance your active listening

Q: Look at the table below for every statement you agree with

People have told you that you are a good listener

yes / no

You enjoy organising group activities

yes / no

You sensitively handle disagreements and negotiations

yes / no

You are good at reading the emotions of others and responding well

yes / no

You are good at building positive relationships with others

yes / no

You always try to listen very carefully when people speak to you

yes / no

It helps to know others and using social skills to work effectively with them.

Q: What are the benefits of knowing others and using social skills onboard a vessel? Discuss with a partner.  

Q: What do we mean by active listening? Discuss with your group.

You may already know about active listening, you may be very good at it, but it is always worth reminding ourselves what we mean by it, how we do it, and what are the benefits for crew members.

It is important to remember that the way we engage with other people can vary between cultures and individuals.  For example, in some cultures, direct eye contact is considered important in order to show that you are listening.  In other cultures, it is considered challenging or disrespectful.

Scenario 1

Q: This volume is about knowing others and using social skills

Active listening helps us to get to know others better by showing a real interest. It is a social skill which helps us work well together as a team and shows we support our colleagues.

Let’s explore active listening. Take a few minutes to read the following scenario and make notes about what the real problem might be.

Amandeep, the 3/O, sits in the officers’ mess. He is reading a textbook. The C/O enters the room and sits across the table from him. 

‘Celestial Navigation!’ The C/O gestures towards the textbook in Amandeep’s hands.

‘I remember when I was studying to become 2/O. A few years ago, now. I thought that the more senior I became, the happier I would be!’  He laughs but rolls his eyes.  ‘How wrong could I be?’

Amandeep does not know what to say to this, so he stays silent.

The C/O sighs, ‘But then when you get promoted you realise that there are other, more important things in life. Don’t you agree?’

Amandeep is a little uncomfortable with this conversation. He mutters, ‘I’m not sure’.

The C/O frowns. ‘I do. When you are young you think everyone will be around forever.  There will be plenty of time to do everything, share everything, tell them what they mean to you’. He takes a deep breath. ‘So, you don’t say it, and life gets in the way.  And one day it’s too late.’ He pauses...

Amandeep gets up. ‘I…need to prepare for my watch.  Excuse me.’ He walks swiftly out of the Officers’ mess.

The C/O takes out his phone and scrolls down. Once more he reads the text and feels the pain in his heart.

?What do you think the chief Officer may have wanted to talk about?

?Why do you think the 3/O didn't want to listen?

?What might happen because the C/O isn't able to talk about his situation?

The phrase ‘and one day it’s too late’, gives us an important clue. The C/O has perhaps suffered a bereavement or maybe the break-up of a relationship, but we won’t know if we avoid asking.  

You may feel that this is personal, and you should not ask about it, but not many people would say what the C/O says in this scenario, if they were not prepared to talk more about it. 

Mental wellbeing is usually improved by talking about issues, rather than keeping them to ourselves.

Active listening does not mean you are supposed to be some sort of therapist or counsellor. 

You are simply listening properly to what the other person is saying, without judging and without turning the conversation to your own agenda.

Active listening guide

Q: In pairs take it in turns to read out the numbered sections from the following active listening guide. Discuss how well you think you can do what is described.

1. Pay close attention

You can’t properly concentrate on somebody else if you are doing something else.  If someone wants to speak to you about something that matters to them;

  • Make enough time. Sometimes people need to work through a problem by talking about it. Few personal problems can be sorted out in a couple of minutes. 
  • Focus on the person entirely. Set aside all work and distractions (particularly phones, computers or any other sort of screen device).
  • Notice how they speak. Do they sound stressed or distracted? Do they appear to be uncomfortable?  This may be a sign that what they are discussing is difficult for them.  If they relax during the conversation you are doing a good job.

2. Show you are listening

If you appear bored distracted or uninterested then the conversation will not last long. Some of the ways in which good listeners show they are listening are;

  • They nod occasionally to show they agree
  • They smile or frown appropriately
  • They use words and phrases like, ‘Go on.’, ‘really...’, and ‘tell me more about...’

3. Explore

Make sure you understand what the person is really saying, and help them explore their issue by:

  • Reflecting back what you think they are trying to tell you by using phrases like, ‘What I’m hearing is…’ and ‘It sounds to me as if you are saying…’.
  • Asking questions to check your understanding of what they are saying, such as, ‘what did you mean when you said….?, or ‘Am I right in thinking….?’

4. Don't interrupt

Being a good listener means giving the other person time to talk. If you interrupt, they will stop sharing.  Don’t disagree.  That might lead to an argument or the end of the conversation.

5. Treat the person and their issues with respect

Assume that the problem or issue is important to the other person.  Don’t dismiss an issue as unimportant by saying something like, ‘Oh that’s not a big deal…’.  It may be a very big deal to them.  If the person becomes anxious or uncomfortable, be ready to stop the conversation.

Active listening exercise 1

Q: In pairs, tell each other about a time when you were not listened to.  It might be onboard ship, or at home, at the doctor’s, in a shop, a car showroom - anywhere where you were talked at instead of listened to.

?How did it make you feel?

?Do you think they knew how they made you feel?

Active listening is a very good social skill which improves relationships between people, both at work and with family and friends.

Q: Talk for 2 mintues to your partner about a place that you know very well. 

Your partner should listen but is not allowed to make notes and is only allowed to say ‘that’s interesting, tell me more about that’…

After two minutes the listener should repeat back as much as they can remember.

Swap roles and repeat the exercise.

Active listening is also an important leadership skill.

Some people are naturally good at it and others are not.  But everyone can improve with practice.

Look for opportunities to build professional (and personal) relationships by active listening.


Summary of volume 2, module 1

Q: Take a moment to write down what you will remember from this session and what you want to do as a result.

In this session we have talked about active listening. We have discussed some of the techniques, and we have explored what it feels like not to be listened to, and what the benefits are of active listening.

Like most things in life, to be good at active listening takes practice. Next time you are talking to someone – ask yourself, am I really paying proper attention to the other person, or am I just waiting for my turn to speak? Active listening takes more effort, but it builds excellent relationships. 

References for this module include the following sources:
1Uono, S and Hietanen, J (2015) Eye Contact Perception in the West and East: A Cross-cultural study, PLoS One, 10(2) e0118094i Fabio, A and Saklofske, D (2020)