Active Listening Skills


What is Active Listening?

How often have you seen or heard the words 'Active Listening' but not really understood the meaning, or even given it a second thought? Most of us think that listening is the same as hearing, and so we take it for granted, thinking we have good listening skills. Unfortunately, the truth is that most of us are not very good at it!

Active Listening is more complex than you think. It has been described as a cluster of attending, encouraging and reflecting skills used together in order to pay attention to the content and feelings that comprise the whole message.

These skills are the techniques which allow the listener to give the speaker their full attention until the speaker is able to communicate the real message. The real message can only be understood if the listener and speaker are able to bring out the underlying feelings.

Passive Listening

The opposite of active listening is passive listening or hearing. We can get into a habit of passively hearing rather than actively listening to people. Often we are distracted by other things in the environment, such as the television, the internet, our smart phones, or something else. We think we are listening to the other person, but we are really not giving them our full attention. We are only half listening, half thinking about something else.

Listening Involves all Our Senses

The listening process involves all your other senses, not just your sense of hearing. This can be best illustrated by persons who may have impairment to one of their senses, such as with blindness. Such people often have an acute sense of smell and touch, and make excellent listeners to compensate for the deficiency in being able to see.

When you are listening you may be receiving input from several senses. All this input has to be processed or decoded by your brain for you to make sense of the incoming information. Listening also requires an appropriate response. This response may be to store the decoded information in your memory, or it may be to provide feedback to the source of your information, or to act on the information and change your behaviour.

This complicated process of interaction between sensation, perception, memory and response continues all day every day, so that when you listen you are simultaneously performing a multitude of highly sophisticated mental feats.


TIP - Your Other Senses

To develop your other senses for active listening, try watching a current affairs program on TV with the sound off. Observe the speaker/s' body language. By watching their facial expressions and gestures, what information can you gather about what they are trying to get across? Write these down.


Selective Attention

As a listener we are being bombarded with all this stimuli from a multitude of senses, which without mental processing we would be overwhelmed and confused. It is impossible to listen to every sound, as well as all the other stimuli your senses may register. To listen is to impose a highly selective filter over these stimuli, and to do this your brain has developed some very clever mechanisms.

Our brain uses only some of the stimuli bombarding us, this process is called Selective Attention. In order to sustain our attention to on event in everyday life, we must filter out other events happening around us. In other words we have to be selective in our attention of some events to the detriment of others.

Listening Requires Attention

When actively listening you selectively attend to the speaker and what he is saying; and respond by using your intellect, your personality and your body in your own unique way. A good listener will be aware of and attempt to minimise distractions, and attend solely to the speaker, working hard to concentrate and stay focused on the speaker's message. You will need to practice these skills, become aware of how long you can concentrate, and how you can improve your attention. Just like actively listening, increasing your attention span is a learned skill.

Becoming a Better Listener

  • Don't interrupt the speaker - often when we enter into a conversation our goal is to be understood. We can be better understood if we listen first. 
  • Don't be judgemental - to actively listen you need to respect the speaker and their views, and put your own emotions aside. 
  • Focus on how the speaker is talking - listen to each word the speaker is saying as well as observing their body language. 
  • Give your undivided attention - it is absolutely important to give your undivided attention if you are to succeed in actively listening. 
  • Show that you are listening - send messages to the speaker using body language, such as smiling, nodding your head and leaning forward. 
  • Use silence effectively - maintain silence until the speaker is finished, that way you will have understood their message and be able to give an appropriate response. 
  • Provide appropriate feedback - reflect what has been said and respond with your own feelings on the subject, clarify and ask questions. 

TIP - Improving Attention

A major barrier to having good listening skills is not paying attention to the speaker. Make a concentrated effort to listen to your partner, child, or a work colleague whilst they are speaking, without interrupting them. Practice this daily.


Active Listening Skills Workbook

Continue with Active Listening Skills by purchasing the full workbook on this topic. Learn more about improving your attention as well as active listening. The workbook is packed with lots of tips and activities that will help you get ahead at work and in life. In its original state the workbook can be used by facilitators for short workshop presentations. Sharpen your skills further by engaging your own private coach. Contact Us.

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