Active listening is the process by which an individual secures information from another individual or group.
The “active” element involves fully concentrating on what is being said, paying attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking the time to understand what the speaker is discussing.
It involves listening with all senses and giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening.
Some characteristics of active listening (Topornycky J, Golparian S) include non-judgemental, patient, verbal and nonverbal feedback, asking questions and for clarification, summarizing.
Active listening means not engaging in bad listening habits such as the following:
- Being stuck in your own head
- Not showing respect for the speaker
- Only registering superficial meaning
- Not making eye contact
- Rushing the speaker
- Getting easily distracted
- “Topping” the story (saying “that reminds me of the time…”)
- Forgetting what was said in the past
- Asking about unimportant details
- Focusing too much on details and missing the bigger picture
- Ignoring what you don’t understand
- Only pretending to pay attention
In this way, active listening is the opposite of passive hearing.
Tips for Practicing Active Listening
The following tips will help you to become a better active listener:
- Make eye contact while the other person speaks. Avoid folding your arms as this signals that you are not listening.
- Don’t interrupt while the other person is speaking.
- Paraphrase what has been said, for example “In other words, what you are saying is…”.
- Shut down your internal dialogue while listening. Avoid daydreaming.
- Watch nonverbal behavior to pick up on hidden meaning, in addition to listening to what is said.
- Be open, neutral, and withhold judgment while listening.
- Show interest by asking questions to clarify what is said. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker. Avoid closed yes-or-no questions.
- Be patient while you listen. We can listen much faster than others can speak.
- Learn to recognize active listening. Learn from the others’ mistakes.
Examples of Active Listening responses
- Building trust and establishing rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.”
- Demonstrating concern: “I’m eager to help; I know you’re going through some tough challenges.”
- Paraphrasing: “So, you’re saying that …”
- Brief verbal affirmation: “I understand that you’d like more frequent feedback about your performance.”
- Asking open-ended questions: “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”
Name of the activity:
Importance of active listening
The aim of the activity:
For all participants to experience not being listened to and to develop understanding of which people in society are likely not to be listened to.
Skills that the activity develops:
- Focus on what the speaker is saying
- Empathy and respect
- To gain confirmation and understand
- Development and incorporating active listening
How many people the activity is suited for:
Minimum a pair
Time requirement for the activity:
How many instructors are needed?
Other requirements for the activity:
Describe the activity in a clear and concise manner:
Ask people to work in pairs. One person is A, the other is B. Either bring all the As together and explain their role to them (where Bs can’t hear), or give them written instructions. Do the same with all the Bs.
Partner A: Your role in this exercise is to talk to your partner and tell him/her all about what you did this weekend, or about your favorite music and why you like it.
Partner B: In this exercise your partner is going to start telling you about something. Your role is NOT to listen and make it clear that you are not listening and not interested, by using any non-verbal (non-spoken) ways you can think of (such as yawning, fidgeting, looking away, etc.).
After five minutes, stop the exercise. Ask participants to exchange roles and repeat the exercise in their new roles.
Bring the whole group back together. Facilitate a discussion, using the following questions to draw out learning points:
- What did it feel like to be partner B, not listening to A?
- How did the As react? (Some may have gotten angry; others were perhaps intimidated and stopped talking.)
- How did Bs feel about that reaction?
- What did it feel like to be A and not to be listened to?
- Are there some (groups of) people in our community who are often not listened to? Who? Why? What impact does that have on them?
And on the rest of the community?
- What can we do to make sure that we listen to (and learn from) each other? Suggested answers:
- Allow time for everyone to have their say; create several types of opportunity for people to contribute (through small-team work, work in pairs, drawings, role-plays, etc., not just whole-team or round-table discussions).
- Say what you want to say but realize your responsibility to respect people’s right to express themselves.
- Hear what the other person is saying: concentrate, focus on the speaker, do not fidget, do not think only about what you’re going to say in response.
- Acknowledge what the speaker says, showing that you accept his or her viewpoint, or at least respect his /her right to hold it, if you disagree with it.
- Use body language to show that you are listening.
- Be aware that our ability to hear what is being said may be affected by our perceptions of the person who is talking, or the way they talk.
- Topornycky J, Golparian S. Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening. Collected Essays on Learning & Teaching. 2016;9:175-184.