Karolina Zmitrowicz

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

How to improve the quality of communication

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) defines business analysis as “the practice of enabling change in the context of an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders” [1]. This process relies heavily on effective communication and understanding of stakeholder needs, with particular emphasis on active listening. In this article, we will explore why these skills are essential for business analysts and how they can overcome some typical barriers to active listening. We will also highlight the benefits of these practices in fostering better relationships and creating a positive work environment.

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]:

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:

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

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:

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

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:

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

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:

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

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]:

Benefits of active listening

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


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.


Karolina Zmitrowicz

At work, I connect business and IT using a variety of experiences and knowledge gained in different areas of activity – from testing, through analysis and requirements engineering, to process management.
Outside of my professional career, I am involved in a number of non-profit activities aimed at improving software development methods and I am an active member of several organizations acting to increase knowledge and maturity of requirements engineering and QA community.
Between 2011 and 2013 I was an active member of REQB® Board. Today, I continue work on RE standardization in IREB®. I am one of the main authors of IQBBA® certification scheme for business analysts and co-author of ISTQB® Acceptance Testing certification program.
From March 2018 to May 2020 I was president of Polish Testing Board (SJSI). Since March 2018 I am a member of the Executive Board at IREB®.