It’s not a huge secret that my wife and I are dog people. We love our dogs, we’re excited when we see other people’s dogs and when we go on vacation, we take time to visit local dog shelters to help out in any way we can.

As I shared earlier this year, rescue dog adoption is part of the reason we ended up together. It’s a shared passion that continues to play a huge role in our relationship.

I think part of the reason I’m such a dog person is because their instincts are often rooted in behaviours that don’t come naturally to humans. For example, dogs are incredible Active Listeners.

What is Active Listening?

A good Active Listener possesses the following five skills:

  1. Paying attention
  2. Showing that you’re listening
  3. Deferring judgment
  4. Providing feedback
  5. Responding appropriately

Before we dive into what this means in practice, please watch the following video of my wife Leora having a deep conversation with our dog Brella.

Paying Attention and Showing that you’re Listening.

Brella, for the most part, is making eye contact with Leora. She is doing her best to process every word being said to her, regardless of whether or not she fully understands what’s being said. It’s clear Brella is 100% focused on this conversation. She’s also showing that she’s listening with every one of those head tilts!

Now think about the past 18 months and be very honest. Have you participated in a video conference, where someone else was presenting? And if so, did you check your phone, your email or another tab in your browser? My honest answer is yes, I’ve done this. It’s not that I’m trying to be rude, but there are days when I have so much to do and if I don’t multitask, I’ll never finish my work on time.

If what I just wrote resonates with you, you are likely guilty of being a multitasker, which is nothing to be proud of. In fact, those who pride themselves on being “great multitaskers” are admitting that they go out of their way to not dedicate 100% of their attention to one thing at a time.

Rather than multitask, be more like Brella. Pay attention and Show that you’re listening.

Deferring Judgment unlocks your ability to Provide Feedback and Respond Appropriately

Take a moment and watch Brella’s video a second time. Not only is she giving Leora her undivided attention, but she’s also completely silent. Not once has she contemplated interrupting Leora by barking. She’s waiting to respond with her head tilts after listening to every word of Leora’s questions.

This is what it means to defer judgment. Rather than jump to a conclusion after listening to a portion of what someone is saying, you actively listen until the person is finished speaking. Rather than interrupt or finish the other person’s sentences, focus on taking in all of the required information. Simply put: deferring judgment means staying silent!

Putting this into practice: imagine you’re interviewing a prospective candidate for an open role at your organization. You ask the candidate a question, they respond and then stop speaking. You now have two options.

  1. Ask a follow-up question or move on to your next question.
  2. Stay silent, while continuing to show that you’re listening.

I invite you to try option 2, but be warned that this will feel awkward at first. By staying silent, you have created tension, as you and your candidate are effectively staring at each other. That said, you have also created space for the candidate to continue their train of thought. Oftentimes, candidates use this opportunity to let their guards down and will provide more candid responses. At this point, you can now make a more informed decision about them, which is the equivalent of providing feedback and responding appropriately.

Take Brella’s cue

This week, take Brella’s cue and make a conscious effort to actively listen. After each conversation, ask yourself if you followed the five principles I mentioned earlier. And if you need a reminder, Brella is here to help.


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