American novelist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

It’s easy to overlook the importance of listening in our daily lives. In the workplace, we attend multiple meetings to bring everyone on the same page about their work. But are we ever really on the same page?

In communication, there are two types of listening—active listening and passive listening. Each of these has its pros and cons but when it comes to effective communication, you need to pick active listening over passive.

If you want to learn how to pay attention to others in the workplace, read on to discover the difference between active and passive listening.

  1. What Is Active Listening?

  2. What Is Passive Listening?

  3. Difference Between Active Listening And Passive Listening

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is when you make an effort to listen to what the speaker is trying to convey. It goes beyond hearing i.e., showing the speaker that you’re registering their words. Active listening works when you ask questions, give feedback and fill in the gaps in communication. It’s not a one-sided conversation, but an exchange of ideas. Active listening is especially useful in the workplace where you deal with time-sensitive, high-stakes information.

What Is Passive Listening?

Passive listening is the opposite of active listening because it doesn’t require any effort from your end. You may be hearing the speaker, but you’re not responding or asking questions. You can observe this type of listening during presentations or meetings when you don’t have to participate. However, you may just be listening passively because you’re distracted. This can make you miss out on important information at work.

Difference Between Active Listening And Passive Listening

Understanding the difference between active and passive listening can help you improve communication at work. Not only will you build interpersonal skills but also improve social relationships.

Here are a few key areas that’ll help you identify the differences between active and passive listening.

  1. Barriers To Communication

Some of the most common barriers to communication are external distractions like endless scrolling on social media or even a lack of interest.

Active listening will help you overcome barriers to communication because you’re retaining information with a purpose. When someone’s speaking to you about something, you’re listening to them, bookmarking your doubts and preparing to follow-up. You clarify information to make sure nothing gets lost in conversation.

Passive listening doesn’t help you address these barriers because you’re not paying enough attention to the speaker. You’re simply hearing what they’re saying rather than making an effort to understand.

  1. Team-Building

One of the most important elements of organizational success is team-building.

Active listening encourages teamwork and team-building because members make a conscious effort to listen to their coworkers. You’re keen to understand what your coworker is trying to say. If they’re sharing an idea, you’ll listen before you remark. With this productive exchange, you can come up with creative solutions to problems.

Passive listening keeps you from building meaningful relationships at work. When you’re distracted or not listening with intent, you may appear disinterested. Your coworkers can even take offense at this, impacting your relationships.

  1. Empathy And Compassion

Active listening is a product of empathy and compassion. You’re willing to give your time to the speaker and make sense of what they’re saying. They may be conveying little with words and more with their actions. Assessing these differences comes from observation.

Passive listening is an involuntary act where you’re not actively doing anything. It’s like listening to music while you work. Although people enjoy talking without being asked any questions, in a formal setting, it’s better to listen actively than passively.

  1. Work Productivity And Performance

When it comes to productivity and performance, active listening is better than passive listening. This is because the former encourages an exchange of ideas, collaboration and following-up. If your teammate asks you about a problem, your response can determine just how well they execute the solution. In passive listening, you’re not equipped to answer questions or provide answers.

  1. Perception

Perception is how you interpret and understand your immediate surroundings. With active listening, you don’t just listen to the speaker but read their nonverbal cues—body language, gestures and expressions. It makes you perceptive to finer details that help you understand them better. Passive listening doesn’t do justice to a speaker’s intent. It can hamper communication when you’re not entirely present in the conversation.

There’s a significant difference between active listening and passive listening. In the workplace, you have to be insightful enough to choose between the two. Learn more about active and passive listening with Harappa’s Listening Actively course. You’ll equip yourself with the right tools to overcome communication barriers. Frameworks like the HARP (Hearing-Attention-Response-Perception) Equation will give you a deeper understanding of how you can listen attentively and learn more.

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