February 17, 2021

Ultimate Active Listening: A simple tool every distributed team should use daily

By now everyone on your team should be comfortable using Active listening. If you need a quick refresher, the idea of Active Listening is to not only listen to what is being said, but also to consider the tone and body language of how it is being said. Active Listening also means taking the conversation deeper by paraphrasing or re-phrasing statements back in the form of a question. This allows the speak to elaborate on points they are trying to convey.


Project Lead: We are on track for getting this project delivered in time for next Friday assuming, of course, there are no unexpected issues.

Manager: That’s great news. Just so I understand. What unexpected issues do you worry about?

Project Lead:  Well, there have been times in the past where a few team members get called away on last minute projects and when that happens, there is nothing I can do about it.

Manager: I see. In that case, let’s discuss contingency plans if this happens…

In this brief situation, the manager uncovered a potential gap using active listening. This enabled them to create a backup plan.


Now that we’ve reviewed Active Listening, let’s look at Ultimate Active Listening. This is where you, the listener, plays the entire conversation back to make sure you’ve heard everything correctly.

Try and keep it as brief as possible, ideally summarizing what was said in only a few sentences. And then – this is critical – confirm you understood correctly.


Here’s an example:

“So to summarize what I just heard, you said we are on target for getting this project done by the due date of next Friday. You walked me through your next steps, and we agreed to touch base next Wed to make sure everything is still on schedule. You said the biggest risk is if a team member gets called away on an emergency, but if this happens, you will reach out to me that same day and we can decide how to handle it. Did I get that right? (Did I miss anything or Is there anything else you’d like to add?)”

This may sound like overkill, but Ultimate Active Listening is designed to confirm that everyone is aligned and clear on what was discussed and the next steps. It is especially useful in remote teams where it is harder to informally check in on progress. It is also helpful in cross-cultural teams where there may be language difficulties.

Use Ultimate Active Listening at the end of each call as away to drive clarity, prevent misunderstandings and confirm next steps. It may add an extra minute to a call, but it can save massive amounts of time, stress and effort in the future.

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