Key Tips for Active Listening

By Jeannette Gerzon

Active listening is a foundation communication skill. Its primary assumption is that the listener is trying to understand the speaker's point of view or experience. The following tips, though not always possible in a given moment or place, will aid our effort to hear and understand what the speaker is saying.

Listening tips that aid understanding

  • Choose to listen (or not): If you cannot listen now but are willing, set a time for later.
  • Find a good space: Choose a place to talk without distractions.
  • Take the time: Let the other person tell their story.
  • Respond (vs. react): Choose your body language, tone, and intention.
  • Show interest: Make eye contact; focus on the person speaking; don't answer your phone or look at your email.
  • "Hear" as well as listen: It is normal to miss some words or not know their meaning. Ask: "Could you say that again?" "Could you explain.?"
  • Ask questions: Ask for more information, for what happened. Ask if you understand: "Are you saying that ... ?"
  • Clarify/Paraphrase: Not everyone knows exactly what they mean to say. Check your understanding. For example, "It sounds like what you are saying is____. Is that right?"
  • Be patient: It's not easy for people to talk about important things.
  • Listen for content and emotion: both carry the meaning at hand. It's OK sometimes to say, "How are you doing with all this?"
  • Learn: Listen for their perspective/their view. Listen for their experience. Discover or learn a new way of seeing something.
  • Follow their lead: See where they want to go. Ask what is important to them (rather than deciding where their story must go or how it must end).
  • Be kind: Listen with heart as well as with mind.