What’s the Difference Between Active Communication and Active Listening

Why is it so important for negotiating?

In communications and negotiation training, the terms “active listening” and “active communication” get used often. The 2 terms are similar in many ways but there is a major difference.

Learning how to be an active communicator and an active listener—and knowing how the two can play off each other—will help you achieve better outcomes in negotiations, business and your personal life.

Here’s a quick definition:

●      Active listening is a technique that uses both verbal and nonverbal cues (like eye contact and nodding your head) to show the person you’re making a real effort to understand them and that makes it easier for them to trust you.


●      Active communication is a technique that allows you to verbally and nonverbally communicate in a way that makes you agreeable and easy to understand.

Now let’s have a closer look.

What are the differences between the two, Active Listening and Active Communication?

At a basic level, active listening is more you-focused (e.g., “How can I get the other person to do something different?”). While active communication is typically me-focused (e.g., “What do I need to do differently?”),

Though they’re different, the premise behind each is actually the same—they are both accomplished by adjusting your behaviour.

With a simple shift in mindset and a little use emotional intelligence, you begin to focus on how changing your behaviour will help you get a better response out of your other person.

How Active Communication Leads to Active Listening

Once you have an understanding of active listening and active communication, you’ll begin to see how these two skills complement each other.

Active communication often creates opportunities for active listening. By setting the tone of collaboration from the beginning, you then create an environment for the other person to return the favour.

Usually, when someone gets a “yes,” they stop listening. Maybe the other side says “yes, and …” or “yes, but …”—in many cases, your brain shuts off after the “yes,” and valuable information is lost somewhere in the ether.

This is a huge red flag in negotiation. After you’ve nailed your active communication, don’t forget that it’s now your turn to listen actively and intently to their response. Remember, the real meat of a conversation isn’t what comes out of your mouth; it’s what comes out of theirs.

This is why labels are so important. Labels force you to listen. Labels are saying things like: “it sounds like you like X” or “it seems like ..X.. is important to you.” When you keep asking yourself what labels you are going use in the conversation, your brain is focused on incoming information—not on what you’re going to say next. You are forced to focus and listen because you know, that you will need their words to make your next move in the negotiation.


Advice for Those New to Active Listening and Active Communication

If you’re new to the idea of becoming an active listener and an active communicator, this mental shift could be initially a challenge.

Most people have been taught to go into a negotiation thinking they should immediately state their case and make a point.

You have to stop thinking this way altogether.

While there are times when you should definitely speak first, your communication efforts should always be focused on gathering more information.

Understanding the value of listening is one of the first steps toward sharpening your negotiation skills.

Be patient—with yourself and with the process. If you’re not used to this approach, going into a conversation with the intention of understanding can seem like a waste of time.

With this approach, you can collaborate and problem-solving much faster with the other person.

Differing opinions always take longer to solve than joint efforts when resolving conflicts.

We always mean well when we have the solution and implementation figured out.

You would think it would save lots of time for both sides if we started with the solution.

However, with this approach, there’s an undertone of, I’m smarter than you; I know your problem better than you do.” If your communication makes the other side feel this way, they will almost certainly dig their heels in. The negotiation table is where solutions are created, not presented.


Active Listening and Active Communication: Builds Trust

Active communication is a tool that helps others feel comfortable. Your timing and delivery of any communication is imperative.

The use of silence, what I call the pause is a powerful tool at the negotiation table when used correctly.

The goal is to uncover the unknowns and get your other person to open up.

An example of this could be in the form of thinking out loud in front of you—which gives you a prime opportunity to apply your active listening skills and gain a deeper understanding of the situation and the persons internal thinking.

If you understand and know human nature and put more focus on understanding the other person, you will build rapport and trust—making your ultimate case that much more persuasive.

Human beings want to help those they trust.

Once you’ve made it that far, odds are the person on the other end has already started to consider how they are going to help you.

A clue that a deal is getting closer is when they are suggesting the solutions.

Check out our upcoming videos about communication skills workshops, stealth sales and negotiation strategies.

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