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The importance of active listening in the role of a Business Analyst

What is active listening?

Active listening transcends the act of merely 'hearing' someone's words. It involves wholeheartedly aligning with the speaker's emotions and perspectives, displaying unbiased acceptance and validation of their experience [2]. This pivotal skill is integral in comprehensively understanding others and cultivating effective communication within the business realm.

The concept has its roots in the formulation of psychologists Rogers and Farson [3], who describe active listening as an important tool to foster positive change, in both dyadic and client-helper interactions and in group contexts. According to Rogers and Farson, there are three main components of successful active listening [3]:

  1. Listen for total meaning
    Effective communication means paying attention not only to the content of the message, but also to the emotions and moods accompanying the communication. It often happens that so-called body language conveys more content than the message itself. To communicate effectively, one should therefore pay attention to both aspects: the content and the emotions.
  2. Respond to feelings
    Active listening doesn't solely rely on hearing the content – for building understanding, trust, and good relationships with communication participants, it's equally crucial to respond appropriately to the feeling component of the message at the right time. This way, the speaker feels believed and supported, establishing an empathetic relationship.
  3. Note all cues
    Non-verbal cues include a person’s facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, and voice tone. Paying attention to these signals can help gain a better understanding of the speaker’s emotional state and level of comfort.

Rogers and Farson are not the only experts who emphasize the significance of non-verbal aspects in effective communication. This concept is developed, among others, in the communication model by Schulz von Thun [4].

Why is understanding these principles so crucial? Because, considering the overarching goals of business analysis, we aim for effective communication, ideally in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and support. Additionally, active listening helps build deeper and stronger relationships between the listener and the speaker [3] – thus, we can establish what is commonly known as rapport.

Rapport can be defined as a state of mutual trust, understanding, and connection established between individuals involved in an interaction. It involves a harmonious and positive relationship where there is a sense of ease and comfort in interaction. This connection is characterized by a shared focus, genuine interest, and a feeling of being emotionally invested in each other.
Rapport means feeling positively toward each other, being focused on and invested in each other, and having a sense of harmony [5].
Tickle-Degnen and Rosenthal [6] describe rapport as the feeling of a "click" or "chemistry" between individuals, signifying an intuitive and pleasant resonance between them. In essence, rapport embodies a dynamic where individuals feel a strong sense of connection, positivity, and alignment in their interactions, leading to smoother and more meaningful communication and relationships.

The significance of active listening

Why is active listening so important? In general, because it is an essential part of our work, the basis for achieving the goal of understanding the problem and needs and proposing appropriate solutions. In particular, active listening comes along with the following benefits [7] [8][9]:

  • Clear understanding of stakeholder needs:
    Active listening enables a business analyst to comprehend the true needs and requirements of stakeholders. By carefully paying attention to what stakeholders say (and what they do not say), the business analyst can identify underlying concerns, pain points, and objectives. This understanding lays the foundation for effective solutions.
  • Enhanced communication:
    Establishing rapport creates a comfortable and trusting atmosphere during interactions with stakeholders. It encourages open and honest communication; stakeholders are more likely to share valuable insights and concerns with someone they trust.
  • Increased stakeholder engagement:
    When stakeholders feel heard and understood, they are more engaged in the analysis process. Engaged stakeholders are more likely to actively participate in discussions, offer feedback, and validate the proposed solutions.
  • Alignment with stakeholder expectations:
    Building rapport helps the BA align perspectives with those of stakeholders. When the business analyst genuinely connects with stakeholders, expectations can be managed better and the proposed solutions are more likely to meet stakeholders needs.
  • Conflict resolution:
    Active listening enables the business analyst to notice underlying tensions and conflicts among stakeholders. By addressing these issues early on, the business analyst can prevent misunderstandings and facilitate smoother collaboration.

Barriers to active listening and their impact on Business Analysis activities

Several barriers can hinder active listening and rapport-building in the business analysis process. Some common barriers include [7] [8][9]:


When we prematurely form judgments about stakeholders or their ideas, we may overlook crucial information and erode trust with the stakeholders. For instance, we might unconsciously assess someone's competence based solely on their position within the organization. Consequently, we could assume that a production worker lacks knowledge about overall production management and thus avoid discussing such topics entirely. In such instances, there is a risk that we will miss the opportunity to obtain valuable information from the perspective of that particular stakeholder.

Pre-judgment can occur when:

  • You approach the conversation with preconceived notions. This can have a negative impact on your judgment and hinder your ability to be open-minded and receptive to their ideas.
  • You start criticizing or judging what the other person is saying without fully listening and understanding their perspective. This can lead to misunderstanding and a breakdown in communication.
  • You are not open to hearing the other person’s point of view. This can be due to a number of reasons, such as that another person's opinion contradicts yours or that you believe the person is not competent enough to speak on a certain topic. In effect, you may unintentionally block out valuable information and miss crucial insights.

What can we do to increase the chances of effective communication?

  • Be open and flexible:
    Enter conversations with an open mind, ready to entertain diverse viewpoints and perspectives. Refrain from prematurely drawing conclusions or forming judgments before fully comprehending the other person’s ideas.
  • Listen and hear:
    Concentrate on genuinely understanding what the other person is expressing without instantly evaluating or critiquing their thoughts. Permit them to articulate their thoughts completely before constructing your response. Avoid making assumptions about the quality of the information someone can provide - concentrate on acquiring and comprehending the information before assessing its quality.
  • Suspend judgment until sufficient information is obtained:
    Even if you have initial reactions to the other person’s remarks, endeavor to withhold judgment until you have listened to their entire message. This approach allows for a more thorough understanding of their perspective.
  • Strive for understanding:
    Instead of criticizing or dismissing the ideas of others, aim to understand their reasoning and the underlying motivations behind their statements. This approach can lead to more productive and respectful conversations.

Selective and excessive filtering

Business analysts may unconsciously filter out information they consider irrelevant, leading to incomplete understanding and potential misinterpretations. For instance, during a conversation regarding a process, the focus might solely be on information related to that specific process, disregarding other significant information shared by stakeholders (e.g., dependencies among various business processes).

It’s important to note that information filtering itself is a necessary element of communication, especially when the goal is to understand a particular problem and its crucial components. Typically, a vast and diverse range of information comes our way. Filtering allows us to discard information that isn't relevant to understanding the given subject and concentrate on the key points. However, it's crucial to be aware that we may not always immediately discern which information is valuable and essential and which is not. Hence, it’s important not to hastily make overarching assumptions and rigidly adhere to them.

Selective and excessive filtering can occur when:

  • You focus solely on specific types of information while ignoring other details, causing you to miss important points in the conversation.
  • You filter out information that might challenge or threaten your beliefs or ideas to maintain a sense of comfort or security.
  • You listen with the intention of hearing only certain things that align with your preconceived notions or wishes.
  • Instead of comprehending the entire message, you only grasp bits and pieces of what the other person is saying, leading to incomplete understanding.

What can we do to increase the chances of effective communication?

  • Listen to the whole message: Pay full attention to the conversation, avoid distractions, and give the stakeholder your undivided focus. Strive to understand the entirety of what the other person is communicating, not just isolated parts.
  • Avoid assumptions: Refrain from making assumptions about what is essential or unimportant in the discussion, and let the speaker express their thoughts freely.
  • Be open-minded: Embrace diverse perspectives and viewpoints, even if they challenge your existing beliefs.

Attempting to prove a point

If we initiate a discussion with the sole aim of validating our own perspective, we risk dismissing valuable insights from stakeholders, consequently constraining creativity and innovation. Regrettably, this tendency is prevalent among seasoned analysts who may lack humility, convinced of their expertise and experience, thus insisting solely on their own viewpoints. Consequently, we might overlook understanding the needs of stakeholders and persist in trying to persuade them to align with our opinions or proposed solutions.

Attempting to prove a point can be when:

  • You are adamant about your own correctness and unwilling to consider alternative perspectives or ideas.
  • You always want to have the final say in a conversation, making it challenging to engage in constructive dialogue.
  • You resist and dismiss any communication that is critical of your ideas or suggests the need for change.
  • When faced with criticism, you respond with defensiveness and aggression instead of genuinely considering the feedback.

What can we do to increase the chances of effective communication?

  • Listen to the opinions of others, even if you think you know the right solution: Despite the discomfort it may bring, actively listen to others’ opinions and feedback, even if it challenges your viewpoint.
  • Resist the urge to fight back: Instead of immediately defending your position, take a moment to internalize the feedback and evaluate its validity.
  • Be open to the possibility of being wrong. Acknowledging the potential for error does not diminish your expertise; rather, it demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn and adapt.

Interrupting or listening to prepare a response (also referred to as rehearsing [10])

This problem occurs when we focus more on what to say next rather than on actively listening to the stakeholder. When we listen to prepare a response we miss important points raised by stakeholders. We are not truly listening because we are preoccupied with ourselves.

Rehearsing can occur when:

  • Instead of actively listening to the speaker, you focus on formulating your reply before they have finished speaking.
  • You cut off the speaker to interject with your own thoughts or ideas that came to mind.
  • Your primary focus is on building your counterargument or response, rather than fully understanding the person’s message.
  • Your attention is directed towards yourself, your opinions, and how the conversation relates to you, rather than empathetically listening to the other person.

What can we do to increase the chances of effective communication?

  • Avoid interrupting:
    Interrupting can be perceived as offensive and aggressive, hindering open communication. Allow the speaker to express themselves fully before offering your input.
  • Pay close attention:
    Actively listen to the speaker without getting caught up in planning your response. Give them your full attention and be present in the conversation.
  • Listen to understand:
    Seek to comprehend the speaker’s perspective, emotions, and underlying message. Do not just listen to respond; listen with genuine curiosity and empathy.
  • Be patient: Give the speaker the time and space to express themselves fully without feeling rushed or cut off.
  • Respond thoughtfully: After the speaker has finished, take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding. If you feel the need to comment immediately, you can start by attempting to summarize the speaker's points to allow yourself time to organize your thoughts and prepare a thoughtful response.

These barriers can have serious implications for business analysis activities, leading to miscommunication, misinterpretations, and ultimately, flawed solutions.

How to improve active listening

To overcome these barriers and enhance active listening and rapport-building, business analysts can apply the following guidelines [11]:

  • Being fully present in the conversation: Business analysts should give their undivided attention to stakeholders during meetings, avoiding distractions and multitasking. This entails not only listening to their words but also observing their body language. Ignoring stakeholders or engaging in other activities during conversations can be disrespectful and hinder the accurate gathering of needs.
  • Showing interest by practicing good eye contact: Maintaining eye contact demonstrates engagement and interest in what stakeholders are saying. Avoiding eye contact, displaying disinterest, or showing a lack of engagement can not only disrupt effective communication but also harm the developing relationship between a BA and stakeholders, especially when our goal is to identify needs for desired changes.
  • Noticing (and using) non-verbal cues: Understanding body language can offer valuable insights into stakeholders’ emotions and unspoken thoughts. If stakeholders appear restless, it may signal discomfort or boredom during the discussion. If they fall into prolonged silence, it might indicate the need for a break or change of direction.
  • Asking open-ended questions to encourage further responses: Open-ended questions encourage stakeholders to expand on their ideas and needs. It's important to remember that in business analysis and projects, our role is not to showcase our abilities. Our primary responsibility is to ask pertinent questions, guide stakeholders, and above all, listen—giving people the opportunity to express their opinions, suggestions, and concerns. Without this, there's a significant risk that the solution we propose will reflect our ideas rather than the actual needs of stakeholders.
  • Paraphrasing and reflecting back what has been said: Restating stakeholders’ key points in our own words confirms understanding and demonstrates that their input is valued. It's crucial to acknowledge that effective communication faces numerous obstacles, including noise that can hinder comprehension. If we don’t ensure a proper understanding of others’ statements, we may wrongly assume we have understood, when, in reality, we haven't.
  • Listening to understand rather than to respond: Business analysts should prioritize fully grasping stakeholders’ perspectives before formulating their responses. Our role is to gather information and aid in decision-making, not to assert our viewpoints at the expense of others. To understand a problem and propose a solution, stakeholders must first have the chance to express themselves fully.
  • Withholding judgment and advice: Avoid the mistake of attempting to define solutions and offer advice without fully comprehending the entire context. Our task is to listen, gather information, synthesize it, and draw conclusions at the appropriate time. Giving premature advice can create unrealistic expectations and, without understanding the full context, our initial advice might simply be incorrect.

Benefits of active listening

Active listening provides several advantages for business analysts, such as [11]:

  • Better relationships: by actively listening and building rapport with stakeholders, BAs can establish strong and positive relationships. This fosters collaboration and trust, enabling smoother interactions and cooperation throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Reduced tension and hostility: when BAs engage in active listening and create a supportive rapport, they can help defuse tense situations and resolve conflicts among stakeholders. This reduces hostility and promotes a more harmonious working environment.
  • Improved communication and trust: active listening demonstrates genuine interest in stakeholders’ concerns and perspectives. As a result, stakeholders feel valued and heard, leading to improved trust and openness in communication. This, in turn, allows for more constructive discussions and feedback.
  • Positive atmosphere and safe environment: business analysts who actively listen and build rapport create a safe and welcoming space for stakeholders to express their thoughts and opinions freely. This encourages stakeholders to share valuable insights, concerns, and suggestions without fear of judgment, ensuring a comprehensive analysis of requirements and needs.


In conclusion, active listening is an indispensable skill for business analysts. Communication skills are one of the key competencies of a business analyst - enabling him or her to efficiently elicit and convey information from and to stakeholders. The ability to actively listen, in turn, is an important aspect of communication competence.

By understanding the barriers to active listening and employing some of the principles mentioned above, we can establish meaningful connections with stakeholders, leading to improved project outcomes, enhanced communication, and stronger relationships. And this is something we should strive for as business analysts.


  • [1] A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) 3.0., IIBA
  • [2] Nelson-Jones, R. (2014). Nelson-Jones’ theory and practice of counselling and psychotherapy. Nelson-Jones’ Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy
  • [3] Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Chicago, IL.
  • [4] Schulz von Thun, Friedemann (2008). Miteinander reden 1. Störungen und Klärungen : allgemeine Psychologie der Kommunikation. Reinbek bei Hamburg.
  • [5] Hall, J. A., Roter, D. L., Blanch, D. C., & Frankel, R. M. (2009). Observer-rated rapport in interactions between medical students and standardized patients. Patient Education and Counseling, 76(3), 323-327.
  • [6] Tickle-Degnen, L., & Rosenthal, R. (1990). The nature of rapport and its nonverbal correlates. Psychological Inquiry, 1(4), 285–293.
  • [7] BCS Professional Certificate in Stakeholder Engagement Detailed Guidance Version 2.0 January 2019.
  • [8] BCS Professional Certificate in Stakeholder Engagement Syllabus Version 2.1.1 June 2023.
  • [9] The Human Touch: Personal Skills for Professional Success, Philippa Thomas, Debra Paul, James Cadle, BCS, The Chartered Institute, 2012.
  • [10] McKay, M.; Davis, M.; Fanning, P. (2009). Messages: The communications skills book. Oackland, CA: New Harbinger.
  • [11] Robertson, K. (2005). Active listening: More than just paying attention. Australian Family Physician, 34(12), 1053–1055.
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