Merriam Webster defines listening as “paying attention to sound, hearing something with thoughtful attention/giving consideration.” Active listening takes this a few steps further. Active listening involves being fully present in a conversation while offering a level of engagement that makes the other person feel heard and seen. As recommended by TherapistAid.com, the key to this can be broken down into 3 categories: Show You’re Listening, Encourage Sharing, and Strive to Understand.
Show You’re Listening
Showing that you are listening is an important first step in showing someone that you are actively listening to what they have to say. There are 2 main ways to illustrate this:
Put Away Distractions
Looking at your phone and/or getting involved in other things while trying to listen to someone can give off the impression that you do not care about what they are trying to say. Being involved with these types of distractions can make it difficult for you to pay attention to what is being said or impact your ability to stay engaged. So, when you are practicing these active listening skills, put away your distractions.
Use Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Body language and small verbal cues visibly and audibly communicate to the speaker that you are listening. First try making eye contact with the speaker. If eye contact is difficult for you, instead try looking at their forehead or chin. It gives the speaker the same visual effect of being visibly paid attention to while diminishing the discomfort that some may feel with direct eye contact.
Small verbal cues demonstrate that you are listening without the intent to speak over. Essentially, using phrases like “I understand”, “that is interesting”, and other phrases to express your engagement and interest in the conversation help the speaker recognize your willingness to listen.
Engaging with the speaker, asking them questions, and summarizing back to them what you have heard demonstrates that you are absorbing what they are saying and that you want to hear more about what they want to say.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions encourage the speaker to elaborate more on the topic and indicate to the speaker that you are interested and would like to know more. Try asking things like “Can you tell me more about…?”, “How are you feeling about this?”. Invite the speaker to give you more information so that you can learn more about what they are talking about.
Show you are listening by summarizing back what you have heard in your own words. For example, if someone is telling you about something they spoke about in therapy, you could say something like “It seems like this was a really big moment for you and it seems like you are putting in a lot of work on this.” This is an opportunity to empathize with what the speaker is saying and show your understanding.
Strive To Understand
Lastly, it is time to bring all the previously mentioned skills together to demonstrate your understanding of what is being said.
Focus your attention on being mentally and physically present without focusing on what you are going to say next. With active listening, you are free to sit back and absorb without always having your next response prepared. The speaker will be appreciative of your presence and willingness to listen.
Listen With an Open Mind
This is a time for you to listen without judgement. Strive to better understand the person’s point of view, even if it may be something that you disagree with. Your opinions and feelings will always be valid, and with active listening the goal is to wait to form those opinions until after you have fully heard and engaged with what the speaker has said. After all, engaging in active listening encourages others to respond in kind and it does feel good to be heard and listened to without judgement.
Looking to practice those active listening skills or having someone actively listen to you? We are eager and happy to help. Reach out to us via our Contact Us page or give us a call at 513-846-5283. We look forward to hearing from you soon!
Fitzpatrick, M., & Fitzpatrick, M. (2014, August 22). Ditching our distractions: The importance of active listening. Forbes. Retrieved March 24, 2023
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Listen definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved March 24, 2023
Nordquist, R. (2019, January 6). The critical role of listening in the communication process. ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 24, 2023
Therapist Aid LLC. (2020). Active listening: Communication skill (worksheet). Therapist Aid. Retrieved March 24, 2023