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StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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StatPearls [Internet].

Active listening.

Karie Tennant ; Ashley Long ; Tammy J. Toney-Butler .


Last Update: September 13, 2023 .

  • Introduction

Active listening is a fundamental aspect of professional interaction, and mastery requires cultivating deliberate practice. Communication is characterized by an exchange in which one party, the sender, transmits information via verbal, written, or nonverbal means to another party, the receiver. In active listening, it is critical that the receiver acknowledges receipt of the information and provides feedback to the sender to ensure mutual understanding. The ability to communicate effectively is not innate; it is a learned skill that requires ongoing practice and refinement. This proficiency underpins teamwork and builds strong patient relationships, vital for positive healthcare outcomes. Effective communication promotes problem-solving efficacy within teams and significantly reduces the likelihood of errors.

Many professionals underestimate the challenges of maintaining clear communication in a demanding healthcare environment. This misjudgment often amplifies stress in the workplace. For instance, in the operating room, where everyone is task-focused and striving for positive patient outcomes, responses to queries can be curtailed due to time pressures. Such abbreviated communication can lead to misinterpretations, which may increase team stress. Therefore, despite time constraints, striving for clarity and completeness in communication is essential for minimizing misunderstandings and enhancing overall team performance. [1]

Upon receiving transmitted information (including sentiments or concepts) from the sender, the receiver's role extends beyond a mere acknowledgment of receipt. The conveyed information, which may be interpreted as either positive or negative, holds the potential to influence the sender's desired outcome. For effective communication, the receiver must provide feedback to the sender. Feedback encompasses an acknowledgment from the receiver coupled with a recapitulation of their understanding of the sender's message. This allows the sender to confirm the accuracy of the received message or offer a restatement for better clarity. This process allows the receiver to seek further clarification through questions, facilitating a better grasp of the message.

Significantly, this communicative clarification process does not consume additional time or detract from the tasks. On the contrary, it improves patient care by incorporating improvisational elements into communication. [2] Simultaneously, understanding the impact of attention-engaging listening tasks on auditory-motor integration is beneficial. [3]  The interaction between physician empathy and breaking terrible news significantly affects patient outcomes, and the timing of these interactions may influence the survival rate among lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma patients. Thus, the receiver's empathetic response and accurate understanding are critical factors in communication, particularly in healthcare settings. [4]

  • Issues of Concern

Several factors can obstruct effective 2-way communication, which is crucial for active listening. The sender's message delivery mode is as significant as the content of the message itself. Misinterpretation of message tone is common, hence necessitating a feedback mechanism. Verbal communication, whether written or spoken, carries an implicit tone that can significantly affect the receiver's understanding of the message. This dynamic can give rise to conflicts in various contexts, including workplaces and patient-care settings. For instance, responses must be concise and precise in an operating room. The tone accompanying the information delivery also plays a critical role; underlying emotions or attitudes conveyed in the sender's words could lead to misunderstandings and communication breakdowns. The written form of verbal communication may, at times, foster negative emotions due to an assumed tone, contrasting face-to-face exchanges that tend to be more direct. Misinterpretation of tone from written words is frequent, especially in surgical environments. Being detail-focused and task-oriented, surgical teams often state their messages by conveying specific information. As a result, pleasantries are frequently omitted, contributing to potential misunderstandings. [5] [6]

Nonverbal communication constitutes a significant component of interaction, encompassing body language, touch, and periods of silence. The communicator and the recipient exhibit body language, indicating positive engagement or discomfort. A person's physical demeanor often reveals their genuine sentiments, even when these may contrast with their spoken words. Examples of body language include abrupt departures after information exchange, eye-rolling, sighing, shaking one's head, avoiding eye contact, placing hands on hips, or maintaining a rigid posture. These gestures may suggest a range of emotions, from indifference and disagreement to outright displeasure. Touch, another element of nonverbal communication, can serve as an expression of empathy or an attempt to exert dominance. While these gestures typically convey benevolent intent, their reception may vary based on individual comfort levels. It is paramount to respect personal boundaries for all team members and patients. Silence, often overlooked, can deliver a potent message. It may suggest thoughtful contemplation or profound shock, rendering an individual speechless. Providing the individual adequate time for processing the information and formulating a response is crucial during such instances. Periods of silence, commonly referred to as 'dead space,' do not necessarily require filling with inconsequential conversation.

  • Clinical Significance

To provide effective feedback, one must first develop strong listening skills, facilitating a clear transmission of ideas from the sender. The following tips can aid in becoming a proficient listener:

  • Concentrate on the sender. Give your full attention to the speaker and their message.
  • Listen for the intended message. Rather than hearing what you want or expect, strive to understand the speaker's intended meaning.
  • Refrain from premature judgment. Avoid making swift judgments if your relationship with the sender isn't robust. Observe their body language to gain insights into their attitudes toward the message.
  • Reflect and paraphrase. Reiterate what you have understood in your own words. This demonstrates your engagement and confirms your comprehension.
  • Ask for clarification. Do not hesitate to ask if any part of the message remains unclear. This will ensure accurate understanding and prevent miscommunication.
  • Maintain focus. If the sender veers off-topic, gently steer the conversation back to the original issue or concern.
  • Avoid distractions and assumptions. Stay focused on the sender's words rather than letting your thoughts wander or make unfounded assumptions.
  • Listen fully before responding. Ensure you have heard and understood the entire message before responding. Active listening is a two-way process.

Active listening calls for full engagement. Both your colleagues and patients will highly value this enhanced communication tool.

  • Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Cultural competence holds a pivotal position in healthcare and significantly influences the process of active listening. Interacting and effectively communicating with individuals from diverse cultures often necessitates modifying conventional communication techniques. Individuals from different cultures uphold unique norms, which may not align with those widely recognized within one's own country. Thus, it becomes imperative for healthcare professionals to participate in educational programs or informative sessions to broaden their understanding of the cultural nuances prevalent in the demographic regions they serve. To facilitate ongoing growth and understanding, these programs should provide continual learning opportunities and feature speakers from various ethnic backgrounds who can accurately represent their culture's distinct communication styles. [7] [8]

Interpreters play a critical role for patients facing language barriers, and their services significantly improve patient satisfaction. However, the power of active listening, which includes attentive body language and meaningful gestures, should not be underestimated. Despite language differences, these nonverbal cues can foster a robust connection within the patient-provider relationship. [9]  Individuals have an inherent right to uphold their cultural traditions, and they must receive respect for their unique identity. Investing in comprehensive training, knowledge acquisition, and increased cultural sensitivity can bolster teamwork and communication. These enhancements ultimately lead to superior patient outcomes. [10]

  • Review Questions
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Disclosure: Karie Tennant declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Ashley Long declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Tammy Toney-Butler declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

This book is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ ), which permits others to distribute the work, provided that the article is not altered or used commercially. You are not required to obtain permission to distribute this article, provided that you credit the author and journal.

  • Cite this Page Tennant K, Long A, Toney-Butler TJ. Active Listening. [Updated 2023 Sep 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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7 Active Listening Techniques For Better Communication

It's time to start having more intentional conversations

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

in problem solving the listener must first

Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.

in problem solving the listener must first

  • How to Improve

Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks. It's about actively processing and seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. It requires being a mindful and focused participant in the communication process.

Active listening techniques include:

  • Being fully present in the conversation
  • Showing interest by practicing good eye contact
  • Noticing (and using) non-verbal cues
  • Asking open-ended questions to encourage further responses
  • Paraphrasing and reflecting back what has been said
  • Listening to understand rather than to respond
  • Withholding judgment and advice

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD explains, "Active listening requires de-centering from one’s fixed position to be fully present with another. It helps people feel more understood and strengthens relationships as it signals a willingness to sit with the other’s perspective and empathy for their situation instead of singular focus on oneself."

MStudioImages / Getty Images

In communication, active listening is important because it keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way. It also makes the other person feel heard and valued. This skill is the foundation of a successful conversation in any setting—whether at work, at home, or in social situations.

Romanoff continues, "Ultimately, it shows respect and value for the other person’s needs, concerns, and ideas as the listener is actively signaling the other person matters to them."

When you practice active listening, you are fully engaged and immersed in what the other person is saying.

7 Active Listening Techniques

The word "active" implies that you are taking some type of action when listening to others. This involves the use of certain strategies or techniques. Here are seven active listening techniques to consider.

1. Be Fully Present

Active listening requires being fully present in the conversation. This enables you to concentrate on what is being said. Being present involves listening with all your senses (sight, sound, etc.) and giving your full attention to the speaker.

"Being fully present involves the skill of tuning into the other person’s inner world while stepping away from your own. This is a power skill in deeply connecting and sitting with another’s emotions," says Romanoff.

To use this active listening technique effectively, put away your cell phone, ignore distractions, avoid daydreaming, and shut down your internal dialogue. Place your focus on your conversation partner and let everything else slip away.

2. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues

As much as 65% of a person's communication is unspoken. Paying attention to these nonverbal cues can tell you a lot about the person and what they are trying to say. If they talk fast, for instance, this could be a sign that they are nervous or anxious. If they talk slowly, they may be tired or trying to carefully choose their words.

During active listening, your non-verbal behaviors are just as important. To show the person you're truly tuned in, use open, non-threatening body language. This involves not folding your arms, smiling while listening, leaning in, and nodding at key junctures.

It can also be helpful to pay attention to your facial expressions when active listening so that you don't convey any type of negative response.

3. Keep Good Eye Contact

When engaged in active listening, making eye contact is especially important. This tells the other person that you are present and listening to what they say. It also shows that you aren't distracted by anything else around you.

At the same time, you don't want to use so much eye contact that the conversation feels weird. To keep this from happening, follow the 50/70 rule. This involves maintaining eye contact for 50% to 70% of the time spent listening, holding the contact for four to five seconds before briefly looking away.

4. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Asking "yes or no" questions often produce dead-end answers. This isn't helpful during active listening as it keeps the conversation from flowing. It also makes it difficult to truly listen to the other person because there isn't much you can gain from a short, non-descriptive response.

Instead, ask open-ended questions to show that you are interested in the conversation and the other person. Examples of open-ended questions you may use when active listening include:

  • Can you tell me a bit more about that?
  • What did you think about that?
  • What do you think is the best path moving forward?
  • How do you think you could have responded differently?

The key to open-ended questions is to have a framework of curiosity about the other person. It signals genuine interest – making the other person feel valued and enables you to better understand them," adds Romanoff.

Open-ended questions encourage thoughtful, expansive responses, which is why they are often used by mental health therapists.

5. Reflect What You Hear

After the person has spoken, tell them what you heard. This active listening technique ensures that you've captured their thoughts, ideas, and/or emotions accurately. It also helps the other person feel validated and understood while keeping any potential miscommunications to a minimum.

One way to reflect what you've heard is to paraphrase. For example, you might say, "In other words, what you are saying is that you're frustrated" or "I'm hearing that you're frustrated about this situation." Summarize what you've heard and give the person the opportunity to say whether you've captured their meaning or intent.

If you'd like to better understand something the person has said, ask for clarification. But don't focus so much on insignificant details that you miss the big picture.

6, Be Patient

Patience is an important active listening technique because it allows the other person to speak without interruption. It also gives them the time to say what they are thinking without having to try to finish their sentences for them.

Being patient involves not trying to fill periods of silence with your own thoughts or stories. It also requires listening to understand, not to respond. That is, don't prepare a reply while the other person is still speaking. Also, don't change the subject too abruptly as this conveys boredom and impatience.

During active listening, you are there to act as a sounding board rather than to jump in with your own ideas and opinions about what is being said.

7, Withhold Judgment

Remaining neutral and non-judgmental in your responses enables the other person to feel comfortable with sharing their thoughts. It makes the conversation to a safe zone where they can trust that they won't be shamed, criticized, blamed, or otherwise negatively received.

Ways to be less judgmental when listening include:

  • Expressing empathy for the person or their situation
  • Learning more about different people and cultures
  • Practicing acceptance of others
  • Recognizing when you may be judging the other person, then stopping those thoughts

Active Listening Example

What does active listening look like? Here is an example of a conversation in which several different active listening techniques are used.

Lisa : I'm sorry to dump this on you, but I had a fight with my sister, and we haven't spoken since. I'm upset and don't know who to talk to.

Jodie : No problem! Tell me more about what happened. (open-ended question)

Lisa : Well, we were arguing about what to do for our parents' anniversary. I'm still so angry.

Jodie : Oh that's tough. You sound upset that you're not speaking because of it. (reflecting what was heard)

Lisa : Yes, she just makes me so angry. She assumed I would help her plan this elaborate party—I don't have time! It's like she couldn't see things from my perspective at all.

Jodie : Wow, that's too bad. How did that make you feel? (another open-ended question)

Lisa: Frustrated. Angry. Maybe a bit guilty that she had all these plans, and I was the one holding them back. Finally, I told her to do it without me. But that's not right, either.

Jodie : Sounds complicated. I bet you need some time to sort out how you feel about it. (withholding judgment)

Lisa : Yes, I guess I do. Thanks for listening—I just needed to vent.

Why Active Listening Is Important

Getting into the habit of active listening can have positive impacts in many key areas of your life. It can affect your relationships, your work, and your social interactions.

In Relationships

Active listening helps you better understand another person's point of view and respond with empathy. This is important in all types of healthy relationships , whether with a spouse, parent, child, another family member, or friend.

Being an active listener in your relationships involves recognizing that the conversation is more about the other person than about you. This is especially important when the other person is emotionally distressed.

Your ability to listen actively to a family member or friend who is going through a difficult time is a valuable communication skill. It helps keep you from offering opinions and solutions when the other person really just wants to be heard.

Active listening at work is particularly important if you are in a supervisory position or interact frequently with colleagues. It helps you understand problems and collaborate to develop solutions . It also showcases your patience, a valuable asset in the workplace.

In some cases, active listening while on the job can help improve workplace safety. For instance, if you are in the healthcare field, engaging in active listening can help reduce medical errors and prevent unintentional patient harm.

During Social Situations

Active listening techniques such as reflecting, asking open-ended questions, seeking clarification, and watching body language help you develop relationships when meeting new people . People who are active and empathic listeners are good at initiating and maintaining conversations.

Active listening helps others feel more emotionally supported. This can be beneficial when interacting with a person who has social anxiety . According to research, emotional support impacts the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in decreased feelings of distress for socially anxious individuals.

Press Play for Advice on Active Listening

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares the value of listening to others, featuring psychiatrist Mark Goulston.

Follow Now :  Apple Podcasts  /  Spotify  /  Google Podcasts  

Ways to Improve Active Listening

We've all been in situations where our "listeners" were distracted or disinterested. Or maybe you want to improve your own active listening skills so you don't do this to others.

Here are a few ways to be a better active listener yourself, or to encourage others to do the same:

  • Encourage your own curiosity . The more curious you are about something, the easier it becomes to want to know more. This naturally causes you to ask more questions and to seek to understand, which are two of the core foundations of active listening in communication.
  • Find a topic that interests you both . This works particularly well when engaging in small talk as you get to know one another. If you both have passion for the topic, it becomes easier to stay fully engaged in the conversation.
  • Practice your active listening skills . Like with any skill, being good at active listening takes some practice. Be patient with yourself as you go through the learning process . Continuing to practice these skills may just inspire the person you're conversing with to do the same. By seeing you demonstrate active listening, they might become a better listener too.
  • Understand when exiting the conversation is best . If you're talking with another person and they are clearly uninterested in the conversation, it may be best to end that conversation respectfully. This can help keep you from feeling annoyed and unheard.

If you find that you are having trouble with listening, you might benefit from professional treatment. Other options include engaging in social skills training or reading self-help books on interpersonal skills.

Keep in Mind

Active listening is an important social skill that has value in many different settings. Practice its many techniques often and it will become second nature. You'll start to ask open-ended questions and reflect what you've heard in your conversations without much (if any) thought.

"Ultimately, active listening helps the speaker feel more understood and heard—and helps the listener have more information and understanding. On both ends of active listening—people feel more connected and collaborative which is why it is such a vital tool when it comes to communication," says Romanoff.

If you find active listening techniques difficult, consider what might be getting in your way. Are you experiencing social anxiety during conversations or do you struggle with attention ? Getting help for these types of issues can help you improve your active listening skills, making you a better listener overall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Active listening helps you build trust and understand other people's situations and feelings. In turn, this empowers you to offer support and empathy. Unlike critical listening, active listening seeks to understand rather than reply. The goal is for the other person to be heard, validated, and inspired to solve their problems.

The three A's of active listening are attention, attitude, and adjustment. Attention entails being fully tuned in to the speaker's words and gestures. The proper attitude is one of positivity and open-mindedness. Adjustment is the ability to change your gestures, body language, and reactions as the speaker's story unfolds.

Reflection is the active listening technique that demonstrates that you understand and empathize with the person's feelings. In mirroring and summarizing what they've said, they feel heard and understood.

There are numerous ways to improve your active listening skills. One is to watch skilled interviewers on talk and news shows. Another is to research active listening techniques online and try them often in your everyday conversations, noting the speakers' reactions and looking for areas that need improvement.

Topornycky J, Golparian S. Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening . Collect Essays Learn Teach. 2016;9:175-184.

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Dean M, Street Jr RL. A 3-stage model of patient-centered communication for addressing cancer patients' emotional distress . Patient Educ Counsel . 2014;94(2):143-148. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2013.09.025

Jahromi VK, Tabatabaee SS, Abdar ZE, Rajabi M. Active listening: The key of successful communication in hospital managers . Electron Physician . 2016;8(3):2123-2128. doi:10.19082/2123

Jones SM, Bodie GD, Hughes S. The impact of mindfulness on empathy, active listening, and perceived provisions of emotional support . Communic Res . 2016;46(6):838-865. doi:10.1177/0093650215626983

Nishiyama Y, Okamoto Y, Kunisato Y, et al. fMRI study of social anxiety during social ostracism with and without emotional support . PLoS One . 2015;10(5):e0127426. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127426

Colorado State University Global. What is active listening? 4 tips for improving communication skills .

Pennsylvania State University. Active listening . 

University of California, Berkeley. Active listening . Greater Good Science Center.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

Understanding Listening

The importance of listening.

Listening is an active process by which we make sense of, assess, and respond to what we hear.

Learning Outcomes

Define active listening and list the five stages of the listening process

Key Takeaways

  • The listening process involves five stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding.
  • Active listening is a particular communication technique that requires the listener to provide feedback on what he or she hears to the speaker.
  • Three main degrees of active listening are repeating, paraphrasing, and reflecting.
  • Listening : The active process by which we make sense of, assess, and respond to what we hear.
  • active listening : A particular communication technique that requires the listener to provide feedback on what he or she hears to the speaker.

Antony Gormley's statue "Untitled [Listening]," Maygrove Peace Park.

Listening Is More than Just Hearing

Listening is a skill of critical significance in all aspects of our lives–from maintaining our personal relationships, to getting our jobs done, to taking notes in class, to figuring out which bus to take to the airport. Regardless of how we’re engaged with listening, it’s important to understand that listening involves more than just hearing the words that are directed at us. Listening is an active process by which we make sense of, assess, and respond to what we hear.

The listening process involves five stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding. These stages will be discussed in more detail in later sections. Basically, an effective listener must hear and identify the speech sounds directed toward them, understand the message of those sounds, critically evaluate or assess that message, remember what’s been said, and respond (either verbally or nonverbally) to information they’ve received.

Effectively engaging with all five stages of the listening process lets us best gather the information we need from the world around us.

Active Listening

Active listening is a particular communication technique that requires the listener to provide feedback on what he or she hears to the speaker, by way of restating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words. The goal of this repetition is to confirm what the listener has heard and to confirm the understanding of both parties. The ability to actively listen demonstrates sincerity, and that nothing is being assumed or taken for granted. Active listening is most often used to improve personal relationships, reduce misunderstanding and conflicts, strengthen cooperation, and foster understanding.

When engaging with a particular speaker, a listener can use several degrees of active listening, each resulting in a different quality of communication with the speaker. This active listening chart shows three main degrees of listening: repeating, paraphrasing, and reflecting.

The Active Listening Chart shows the progression in the quality of listening that an active listener can engage in. Repeating requires perceiving, paying attention, and remembering. Repeating the messages involves using exactly the same words used by the speaker. Paraphrasing goes one step further in that it requires thinking and reasoning. Paraphrasing involves rendering the message using similar phrase arrangement to the ones used by the speaker. Reflecting, which also requires thinking and reasoning, involves rendering the message using your own words and sentence structure.

Degrees of Active Listening : There are several degrees of active listening.

Active listening can also involve paying attention to the speaker’s behavior and body language. Having the ability to interpret a person’s body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message.

Listening and Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are essential and connected to the ability to listen effectively and process the information that one hears.

Illustrate the relationship between critical thinking and listening

  • Critical thinking is the process by which people qualitatively and quantitatively assess the information they accumulate.
  • Critical thinking skills include observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition.
  • The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case, including the process of listening.
  • Effective listening lets people collect information in a way that promotes critical thinking and successful communication.
  • critical thinking : The process by which people qualitatively and quantitatively assess the information they have accumulated.
  • Metacognition : “Cognition about cognition”, or “knowing about knowing. ” It can take many forms, including knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.

Critical Thinking


Roosevelt and Churchill in Conversation : Effective listening leads to better critical understanding.

One definition for critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. ”

In other words, critical thinking is the process by which people qualitatively and quantitatively assess the information they have accumulated, and how they in turn use that information to solve problems and forge new patterns of understanding. Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions.

Critical thinking has many practical applications, such as formulating a workable solution to a complex personal problem, deliberating in a group setting about what course of action to take, or analyzing the assumptions and methods used in arriving at a scientific hypothesis. People use critical thinking to solve complex math problems or compare prices at the grocery store. It is a process that informs all aspects of one’s daily life, not just the time spent taking a class or writing an essay.

Critical thinking is imperative to effective communication, and thus, public speaking.

Connection of Critical Thinking to Listening

Critical thinking occurs whenever people figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable, reflective way. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case, but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Expressed in most general terms, critical thinking is “a way of taking up the problems of life. ” As such, reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically insofar as core critical thinking skills can be applied to all of those activities. Critical thinking skills include observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition.

Critical thinkers are those who are able to do the following:

  • Recognize problems and find workable solutions to those problems
  • Understand the importance of prioritization in the hierarchy of problem solving tasks
  • Gather relevant information
  • Read between the lines by recognizing what is not said or stated
  • Use language clearly, efficiently, and with efficacy
  • Interpret data and form conclusions based on that data
  • Determine the presence of lack of logical relationships
  • Make sound conclusions and/or generalizations based on given data
  • Test conclusions and generalizations
  • Reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
  • Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life

Therefore, critical thinkers must engage in highly active listening to further their critical thinking skills. People can use critical thinking skills to understand, interpret, and assess what they hear in order to formulate appropriate reactions or responses. These skills allow people to organize the information that they hear, understand its context or relevance, recognize unstated assumptions, make logical connections between ideas, determine the truth values, and draw conclusions. Conversely, engaging in focused, effective listening also lets people collect information in a way that best promotes critical thinking and, ultimately, successful communication.

Causes of Poor Listening

Listening is negatively affected by low concentration, trying too hard, jumping ahead, and/or focusing on style instead of substance.

Give examples of the four main barriers to effective listening

  • Low concentration can be the result of various psychological or physical situations such as visual or auditory distractions, physical discomfort, inadequate volume, lack of interest in the subject material, stress, or personal bias.
  • When listeners give equal weight to everything they hear, it makes it difficult to organize and retain the information they need. When the audience is trying too hard to listen, they often cannot take in the most important information they need.
  • Jumping ahead can be detrimental to the listening experience; when listening to a speaker’s message, the audience overlooks aspects of the conversation or makes judgments before all of the information is presented.
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency to pick out aspects of a conversation that support one’s own preexisting beliefs and values.
  • A flashy speech can actually be more detrimental to the overall success and comprehension of the message because a speech that focuses on style offers little in the way of substance.
  • Recognizing obstacles ahead of time can go a long way toward overcoming them.
  • confirmation bias : The tendency to pick out aspects of a conversation that support our one’s own preexisting beliefs and values.
  • Vividness effect : The phenomenon of how vivid or highly graphic and dramatic events affect an individual’s perception of a situation.


Causes of Poor Listening : There are many barriers that can impede effective listening.

The act of “listening” may be affected by barriers that impede the flow of information. These barriers include distractions, an inability to prioritize information, a tendency to assume or judge based on little or no information (i.e., “jumping to conclusions), and general confusion about the topic being discussed. Listening barriers may be psychological (e.g., the listener’s emotions) or physical (e.g., noise and visual distraction). However, some of the most common barriers to effective listening include low concentration, lack of prioritization, poor judgement, and focusing on style rather than substance.

Low Concentration

Low concentration, or not paying close attention to speakers, is detrimental to effective listening. It can result from various psychological or physical situations such as visual or auditory distractions, physical discomfort, inadequate volume, lack of interest in the subject material, stress, or personal bias. Regardless of the cause, when a listener is not paying attention to a speaker’s dialogue, effective communication is significantly diminished. Both listeners and speakers should be aware of these kinds of impediments and work to eliminate or mitigate them.

When listening to speech, there is a time delay between the time a speaker utters a sentence to the moment the listener comprehends the speaker’s meaning. Normally, this happens within the span of a few seconds. If this process takes longer, the listener has to catch up to the speaker’s words if he or she continues to speak at a pace faster than the listener can comprehend. Often, it is easier for listeners to stop listening when they do not understand. Therefore, a speaker needs to know which parts of a speech may be more comprehension intensive than others, and adjust his or her speed, vocabulary, and sentence structure accordingly.

Lack of Prioritization

Just as lack of attention to detail in a conversation can lead to ineffective listening, so can focusing too much attention on the least important information. Listeners need to be able to pick up on social cues and prioritize the information they hear to identify the most important points within the context of the conversation.

Often, the information the audience needs to know is delivered along with less pertinent or irrelevant information. When listeners give equal weight to everything they hear, it makes it difficult to organize and retain the information they need. For instance, students who take notes in class must know which information to writing down within the context of an entire lecture. Writing down the lecture word for word is impossible as well as inefficient.

Poor Judgement

When listening to a speaker’s message, it is common to sometimes overlook aspects of the conversation or make judgments before all of the information is presented. Listeners often engage in confirmation bias, which is the tendency to isolate aspects of a conversation to support one’s own preexisting beliefs and values. This psychological process has a detrimental effect on listening for several reasons.

First, confirmation bias tends to cause listeners to enter the conversation before the speaker finishes her message and, thus, form opinions without first obtaining all pertinent information. Second, confirmation bias detracts from a listener’s ability to make accurate critical assessments. For example, a listener may hear something at the beginning of a speech that arouses a specific emotion. Whether anger, frustration, or anything else, this emotion could have a profound impact on the listener’s perception of the rest of the conversation.

Focusing on Style, Not Substance

The vividness effect explains how vivid or highly graphic an individual’s perception of a situation. When observing an event in person, an observer is automatically drawn toward the sensational, vivid or memorable aspects of a conversation or speech.

In the case of listening, distracting or larger-than-life elements in a speech or presentation can deflect attention away from the most important information in the conversation or presentation. These distractions can also influence the listener’s opinion. For example, if a Shakespearean professor delivered an entire lecture in an exaggerated Elizabethan accent, the class would likely not take the professor seriously, regardless of the actual academic merit of the lecture.

Cultural differences (including speakers’ accents, vocabulary, and misunderstandings due to cultural assumptions) can also obstruct the listening process. The same biases apply to the speaker’s physical appearance. To avoid this obstruction, listeners should be aware of these biases and focus on the substance, rather than the style of delivery, or the speaker’s voice and appearance.

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  • Listening to understand: How to practic ...

Listening to understand: How to practice active listening (with examples)

Julia Martins contributor headshot

What if we told you listening wasn’t as simple as, well, just listening? In fact, different types of listening go beyond learning—you can also listen to improve your relationships, deepen your connections, and build trust. In this article, we’ll walk you through the different types of listening and show you how active listening can help you listen to understand—not just respond.

The four types of listening

Ready to become a better listener? Here’s how. There are four different types of listening: 

Empathic listening , which is when you listen to understand. Think of listening when someone shares a personal story. In this type of listening, you’re focused on the other person, instead of yourself.

Appreciative listening , which is when you listen to enjoy yourself. Think of listening to music, a motivational speaker, or attending a religious ceremony.

Comprehensive listening , which is when you listen to learn something new. This type of listening happens when you listen to a podcast, the news, or an educational lecture, like a class. 

Critical listening , which is when you listen to form an opinion of what someone else said. This type of listening happens when you’re debating with someone or when you’re listening to a sales person.

Active listening —or listening to understand—falls under the category of empathic listening. This type of listening helps you build strong relationships, gain a deeper understanding of your friends and colleagues, and even deepens your own sense of empathy. 

What is active listening?

Active listening is the practice of listening to understand what someone is saying. When you practice active listening, you’re exclusively focused on what the other person is saying instead of planning what to say in response as you would during a debate or conversation. To confirm you understand, you then paraphrase what you heard back to the other person. Depending on the conversation, you can also ask a specific, open-ended question to dig deeper into the topic. 

Active listening helps you have more meaningful and engaged conversations. When you’re paying full attention to what the other person is saying—without planning what you want to say or interrupting their conversation—you develop more effective communication skills. 

Active listeners: 

Ask open-ended questions to learn more.

Paraphrase and summarize what the other person is saying to make sure you fully understand. 

Demonstrate patience by focusing on the other person, instead of your own thoughts. 

Exhibit positive, nonverbal communication like eye contact and leaning in. 

Avoid distractions and multitasking. 

The benefits of active listening

Active listening is one of the best ways to build your interpersonal relationships and establish closer connections, especially with team members. This soft skill is a key part of conflict resolution , problem solving , and constructive criticism .

When you practice active listening you:

Improve communication

Boost collaboration

Truly understand what the other person is saying

Connect on a deeper level 

Demonstrate empathy 

Resolve conflict

Build trust

Establish rapport

Tips to improve your active listening skills

Active listening is a soft skill that takes time to develop. Try these five active listening techniques to practice this skill. Below, we’ll also dive into a few examples to help you continue building this muscle. 

1. Avoid interrupting

Sometimes, when a conversation is flowing, you want to jump in and add your own ideas, or elaborate on a thought someone else just shared. This type of interruption moves some conversations along, but it’s not something you want to do when you’re actively listening to understand. 

To practice active listening, dedicate all of your attention and energy towards what the other person is saying. Inevitably, you will have a thought or comment about something they have to say, but try to put those thoughts to the side while you’re listening to understand. 

2. Listen without judgment

As you learn about active listening, you may encounter people talking about non-judgmental listening. Non-judgmental doesn’t refer to positive or negative judgement. Rather, it refers to your internal monologue. In this case, judgment is any thought—positive or negative—you have about what someone else says. When you have these internal thoughts in reaction to another person’s speech, you’re inherently focusing on what you think instead of what they have to say. 

Where possible, try to listen without judgment, and put aside any thoughts that come into your head. It’s OK if your point of view is different from the speaker’s. To be an active listener, simply focus on what they have to say so you can develop a better understanding of the other person.

3. Paraphrase and summarize

Once the other person is done speaking, paraphrase what you heard back to them in your own words. Paraphrasing helps you ensure you understood what the other person was trying to express. If you paraphrase incorrectly, or miss something they were trying to communicate, they can clarify. Then, you can dig deeper into the conversation. 

By paraphrasing and summarizing—rather than adding any additional information—you’re also demonstrating that your focus was on them. During the paraphrasing, avoid adding any comments or opinions of your own, since the purpose of active listening is to focus on the other person and withhold your own judgement. 

4. Model positive nonverbal behavior

Because you’re not doing a lot of talking during the active listening process, the best way to be supportive is to model positive nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal communication is anything you communicate without words—things like your facial expression, gestures, posture, and body language. 

To model positive nonverbal behavior, make eye contact with the person who’s speaking, to show them that you’re listening. Avoid crossing your arms or fidgeting, since those behaviors typically indicate distraction. You can also smile and nod along, if appropriate. These nonverbal cues not only make it clear to the other person that you’re paying attention to what they have to say, they also make the other person more comfortable during the conversation. 

Tip: If you’re meeting virtually, like during a video conference meeting, smile and nod along while the other person is speaking. Avoid multitasking or looking off screen—instead, keep your video on and your attention on the speaker to show you’re engaged.  

5. Ask specific, open-ended questions

Once the person finishes their thought, demonstrate you’re engaged by asking specific, open-ended questions. Avoid adding your own judgment to those questions—remember, you’re focusing on what the other person has to say. 

For example, ask:

“Tell me more about that.”

“How did you feel?”

“What made you pursue that option?” 

“What can I do to help?” 

Avoid asking questions or making statements that indicate judgment. For example, instead of: 

“Why would you do that?” try asking “What motivated you to do that?” 

“You didn’t really mean that, did you?” try asking “What did you mean by that?” 

“That doesn’t make sense” try asking “I’m not following, could you explain…” 

Example active listening dialogue

If you’ve never practiced active listening before, it can be a bit confusing to try out yourself. Below, we’ll walk you through an example dialogue between two people, one of whom is supporting their coworker by actively listening. Before we dive into an example, here are some key dialogue elements to use when you’re listening to understand: 

“Tell me more about…”

“What happened next?”

“So what you’re saying is…”

“How did you feel after that?”

“What would you like to do about…”

“What can I do to help?”

“Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.”

Example dialogue to practice your active listening skills

Your team member has been tasked with presenting a new initiative to the broader team. Before they do so, they want to run the idea by you for your thoughts. By using active listening skills during this conversation, you can best support your team member and connect with their ideas. Here’s an example of how that might go:

Coworker: “For this initiative, we’ll feature different customers on our company Instagram. Each month, we will align the featured customer with the month’s broader theme. For example, we could feature a female creator during Women’s History Month in February, or a Black creator during Black History Month in October.”

To practice active listening in this conversation, start by paraphrasing what you heard: 

You: “So what I’m hearing you say is you want to feature a different customer on our Instagram each month, and align that program with a larger monthly theme, like Women’s History Month…” 

Then, ask an open-ended question to dig deeper into the topic:

You: “What would these posts be like?” 

Coworker: “I’m thinking they could each do an Instagram takeover for a day. This way we can amplify their voice, as well as show off the work they create.” 

Affirm that you’re hearing what they have to say: 

You: “I see, this sounds really cool…” 

Then, dig into specifics to demonstrate interest:

You: “Tell me more about how you’d source these creators.”

Coworker: “ Well next month is Pride month, so if I get the go-ahead from our manager, I’m thinking about reaching out to an openly queer woman I’ve already spoken to on Twitter and seeing if she’d be interested.”

Affirm that you’re hearing what they said: 

You: “Reaching out to an openly queer woman on Twitter sounds awesome!”

Then, ask an open-ended question:

You: “What can I do to help?”

When to use active listening at work

Active listening is a great way to improve your interpersonal communication, but you don’t need to practice it 100% of the time. After all, having a dialogue with your manager, direct reports, and peers is important. But in certain situations, being an active listener can improve your relationships. 

As a manager

If you manage a team, active listening is a great tool to empower your employees and make sure they feel heard. By listening intently and replaying what you’re hearing back to your team members, you can ensure they feel supported. 

Use active listening as a manager to:

Resolve conflict. If a team member comes to you with a conflict, use active listening to understand and clarify what they’re saying. By listening to understand, you can ensure the team member feels fully heard. To effectively resolve conflict, you shouldn’t focus on your thoughts or feelings about a topic—rather, focus exclusively on what your team member has to say in order to effectively support them. Read our article to learn a great conscious leadership strategy for conflict resolution .

Facilitate meetings. As a meeting facilitator, you want to make sure everyone is heard and everyone’s ideas are considered—especially during a meeting like a team brainstorm . By practicing good listening skills, you can ensure you capture everything someone is trying to express. Then, by paraphrasing that back to the team, you can ensure everyone is on the same page—and give the team member additional opportunities to expand on their idea. 

Problem solve. As a manager, problem solving is less about providing a solution and more about helping your team member arrive at the conclusion themselves. Open ended questions and effective listening help you help your direct report. Oftentimes, they already know the answer to their problem—by asking clarifying questions, you help them realize that.

quotation mark

When your teammate brings up the problem they need to solve, reflect back on what they’re saying (‘What I hear you saying is…’). Sometimes just hearing a problem relayed back inspires someone to realize they already know the answer.”

As an individual contributor 

Managers aren’t the only ones who benefit from active listening in the workplace. Even if you don’t manage a team, active listening helps you engage with your coworkers and build a more collaborative team environment. 

When to use active listening as an individual contributor:

Conflict resolution. Some of the best conflict resolution happens one on one. If a coworker comes to you with a workplace conflict, use active listening to understand their point of view. Active listening helps you approach the situation with an open mind, and more effectively find a solution. 

Collaboration. The better you're able to connect with team members, the more effectively you can collaborate. When team members share ideas or opinions, use active listening techniques to fully hear them. By removing judgment and putting aside your own inner monologue, you can more effectively understand what your team member is trying to say, communicate your own thoughts in return, and increase collaboration as a result. 

Activate your active listening skills

Like any interpersonal skill, active listening takes time. And it isn’t something you should use 100% of the time—having dialogue is important! But when a coworker is sharing something with you, active listening helps you bring empathy, connection, and understanding to the conversation. Listening to understand brings you closer to your team members, in order to lower the barrier to collaboration and boost teamwork. 

For more tips, learn about the best conflict resolution strategy you’re not using .

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Mentorloop Mentoring Software

​Active Listening: The Most Important Skill for Effective Mentors

  • February 8, 2023

man walking down the street with headphones

The most important part of any relationship is communication, which is why it’s especially important for both mentors and mentees to take note of their own communication styles and ensure that they work for their mentoring partner. Active listening can help here, and is an important life skill that can be applied in various settings, such as the workplace, at home, or in any communication situation.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) there are four principal methods that we use to communicate (with the exception of non-verbal behaviour).

a chart describing the four principal methods that we use to communicate: listening (45%), talking (30%), reading (16%) and writing (9%).

It’s curious to note that unlike talking, reading and writing, we are not taught how to listen. CIPD notes that although we spend a lot of time ‘hearing’, experts estimate that only 25-50% of this time is spent actually ‘listening’.

So how do we learn how to listen, and more specifically, become active listeners?

When it comes to mentors specifically, an active listening approach is key; after all, mentors and mentees spend much of their relationship talking and listening to one another. Active listening is a technique in which the listener must fully concentrate in order to understand, respond and remember what is being said. Like any skill, it must be developed. Here are some ways you might notice that your own mentor is an active listener (and how you yourself can become one!).

This is Part 9 of our 10-part series on the 10 Key Qualities and Habits of a Highly Effective Mentor . Read Part 8 here.

What is Active Listening?

At the core of it, active listening is a communication technique that involves more than just hearing the words the speaker is saying. It involves focusing on what the speaker is saying, as well as their intonation, body language, and facial expressions. Active listening involves paying attention to what is behind the words the speaker is saying – their feelings, emotions, and concerns. Rather than just responding to the words, active listeners make sure that they truly understand what the speaker is communicating.

It’s an important life skill to have in any relationship, whether it is with a friend, family member, or colleague. It can assist in creating a safe space for the speaker to express themselves, and it allows the listener to gain a better understanding of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. It does wonders in building trust and respect between people as demonstrates the listener is truly engaged in the conversation and is taking the time to understand the speaker’s perspective.

Luckily, this is a skill that can be developed with practice. It involves being more mindful of others’ words and body language, responding in a way that shows you’re truly listening and understanding – and it involves asking questions to gain further insight into thoughts and feelings. With practice, active listening can become an invaluable tool for creating meaningful conversations and relationships and ultimately, makes you a more empathetic person.

So let’s dive in and become better active listeners.

Quality 7 of Effective Mentors: They’re Active Listeners

1. they stop talking.

This may seem like common sense, but it can be harder than you might think! When some people stop talking, it’s only because they’re thinking about what they want to say next. But not with active listeners! Active listeners suppress the urge to focus on how they want to respond and first actually listen to what you have to say.

2. They approach listening as a learning experience

As we said in Part 7 of our series, the most effective mentors are life-long learners. This goes hand-in-hand with them also being active listeners, as a trademark of active listening is to approach the listening experience as a learning one. Oftentimes, these listeners think of the speaker as someone who can teach them something—no matter who that speaker may be! For them, there’s always something to learn.

3. They guide the conversation

Active listeners are rarely happy with a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, they avoid close-ended questions and employ open-ended ones, using broad queries to guide their mentees to discover solutions for themselves. Some examples of leading questions may be “What other alternatives have you considered to X?” or “How do you envision your career-changing once you do Y?”

In the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It , Chris Voss speaks to his version of this concept he’s dubbed as ‘tactical empathy’, where in conversation you show you’re listening by repeating back to them. In this approach, you’re not driving for a  yes . You’re aiming for a  that’s right . When you understand someone so fully—and that individual  knows  that you understand them—and you have the ability summarize their thoughts completely, they have no choice but to respond with  that’s right and this builds camaraderie and trust.

The aim is to learn about your counterpart by asking open questions and showing you’re truly hearing them.

4. They make you think

While active listener-mentors use guiding questions to get their mentees where they need to be, they don’t let them off the hook with lofty responses. Instead, they ensure they pull out actionable items from every conversation. These may be discovered after asking questions like “Tell me how you plan to accomplish X,” or “How did you decide that Y was the best choice?” These direct, specific questions can help focus the conversation while bringing to light important insights and next steps.

5. They take into account more than just what you say

These mentors aren’t just paying attention to the words you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and what your body is doing while you speak. That’s because oftentimes, the real message we want to convey doesn’t take the form of a verbal response, it may be less cerebral and more emotional, expressing itself through our body language. Active listener-mentors know to look for this in order to truly understand what you want to get across.

6. They pay attention, summarise, and provide positive feedback

Ultimately, these mentors will pay attention and respect what you have to say, even if they don’t agree. In order to ensure they understand correctly, they’ll also often summarize what you’ve said by using statements such as “If I’m understanding you correctly, you…” or “Tell me if this is what you’re saying…” Last but not least, they’ll use positive feedback and body language—such as a nod, smile or positive “uh huh”—to encourage you and signify interest and understanding.

It’s important to note that active listening takes energy. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back and allow words to hit their eardrums. They sit up straight, take notes, ask questions, and repeat or “mirror back” what they’ve heard in order to ensure they’ve understood it properly. If you notice this type of behaviour from your own mentor during conversations, you’ve hit the jackpot! Your mentor is fully invested in you, what you’re saying, and helping you grow. The world would surely be a better place if we were all active listeners.

Why Active Listening is Important

Active listening has been shown to be helpful in many communication situations and helps to build relationships by showing the speaker that they are being heard and understood. This can help to create an atmosphere of trust and transparency. On the other hand, not listening or defaulting to offering unsolicited advice can actively lead to misunderstandings and feelings of frustration and resentment. It’s also a tool to help resolve conflicts and understand complex situations by really absorbing what is being said and attempting to comprehend it.

It encourages a space where all parties involved in a conversation are on the same page. By listening carefully and asking questions, it’s easier to gain a better understanding of the other person’s point of view and help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal.

Developing Effective Active Listening Skills

We’ve listed a number of ways your active listening skills can be learnt and honed over time with practice. Some further key components of active listening include:

  • Watch body language : Keeping an eye on body language cues can help you understand more about what the speaker is feeling.
  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker and really concentrate on their words.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue talking by providing verbal responses such as “yes” or “go on”, as well as non-verbal cues such as nodding.
  • Be aware of your personal biases or preconceived notions that may be influencing your listening.
  • Remain open-minded and try to view the conversation from the speaker’s perspective.
  • Be patient and allow the speaker to take their time to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Be mindful of your attitude : Your attitude towards the speaker will inevitably affect how much you are able to take in.
  • Resist the urge to dish out advice or judgement during the conversation, and instead focus on truly understanding the speaker’s words and feelings.
  • Practice active pauses : Taking pauses before responding can help you correctly process the information presented to you.
  • Slow down your speech : Speaking quickly may prevent you from understanding the speaker and their context.
  • Avoid multitasking : Multitasking during a conversation can be detrimental to the listener’s understanding, so try not to do it.

By actively listening and engaging with the speaker, you can create a safe and supportive environment for meaningful dialogue.

Ready to establish a culture of mentoring at your organisation? Why not start by sharing this series with your HR team?

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5.1 Understanding How and Why We Listen

Learning objectives.

  • Describe the stages of the listening process.
  • Discuss the four main types of listening.
  • Compare and contrast the four main listening styles.

Listening is the learned process of receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages. We begin to engage with the listening process long before we engage in any recognizable verbal or nonverbal communication. It is only after listening for months as infants that we begin to consciously practice our own forms of expression. In this section we will learn more about each stage of the listening process, the main types of listening, and the main listening styles.

The Listening Process

Listening is a process and as such doesn’t have a defined start and finish. Like the communication process, listening has cognitive, behavioral, and relational elements and doesn’t unfold in a linear, step-by-step fashion. Models of processes are informative in that they help us visualize specific components, but keep in mind that they do not capture the speed, overlapping nature, or overall complexity of the actual process in action. The stages of the listening process are receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding.

Before we can engage other steps in the listening process, we must take in stimuli through our senses. In any given communication encounter, it is likely that we will return to the receiving stage many times as we process incoming feedback and new messages. This part of the listening process is more physiological than other parts, which include cognitive and relational elements. We primarily take in information needed for listening through auditory and visual channels. Although we don’t often think about visual cues as a part of listening, they influence how we interpret messages. For example, seeing a person’s face when we hear their voice allows us to take in nonverbal cues from facial expressions and eye contact. The fact that these visual cues are missing in e-mail, text, and phone interactions presents some difficulties for reading contextual clues into meaning received through only auditory channels.


The first stage of the listening process is receiving stimuli through auditory and visual channels.

Britt Reints – LISTEN – CC BY 2.0.

Our chapter on perception discusses some of the ways in which incoming stimuli are filtered. These perceptual filters also play a role in listening. Some stimuli never make it in, some are filtered into subconsciousness, and others are filtered into various levels of consciousness based on their salience. Recall that salience is the degree to which something attracts our attention in a particular context and that we tend to find salient things that are visually or audibly stimulating and things that meet our needs or interests. Think about how it’s much easier to listen to a lecture on a subject that you find very interesting.

It is important to consider noise as a factor that influences how we receive messages. Some noise interferes primarily with hearing, which is the physical process of receiving stimuli through internal and external components of the ears and eyes, and some interferes with listening, which is the cognitive process of processing the stimuli taken in during hearing. While hearing leads to listening, they are not the same thing. Environmental noise such as other people talking, the sounds of traffic, and music interfere with the physiological aspects of hearing. Psychological noise like stress and anger interfere primarily with the cognitive processes of listening. We can enhance our ability to receive, and in turn listen, by trying to minimize noise.


During the interpreting stage of listening, we combine the visual and auditory information we receive and try to make meaning out of that information using schemata. The interpreting stage engages cognitive and relational processing as we take in informational, contextual, and relational cues and try to connect them in meaningful ways to previous experiences. It is through the interpreting stage that we may begin to understand the stimuli we have received. When we understand something, we are able to attach meaning by connecting information to previous experiences. Through the process of comparing new information with old information, we may also update or revise particular schemata if we find the new information relevant and credible. If we have difficulty interpreting information, meaning we don’t have previous experience or information in our existing schemata to make sense of it, then it is difficult to transfer the information into our long-term memory for later recall. In situations where understanding the information we receive isn’t important or isn’t a goal, this stage may be fairly short or even skipped. After all, we can move something to our long-term memory by repetition and then later recall it without ever having understood it. I remember earning perfect scores on exams in my anatomy class in college because I was able to memorize and recall, for example, all the organs in the digestive system. In fact, I might still be able to do that now over a decade later. But neither then nor now could I tell you the significance or function of most of those organs, meaning I didn’t really get to a level of understanding but simply stored the information for later recall.

Our ability to recall information is dependent on some of the physiological limits of how memory works. Overall, our memories are known to be fallible. We forget about half of what we hear immediately after hearing it, recall 35 percent after eight hours, and recall 20 percent after a day (Hargie, 2011). Our memory consists of multiple “storage units,” including sensory storage, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory (Hargie, 2011).

Our sensory storage is very large in terms of capacity but limited in terms of length of storage. We can hold large amounts of unsorted visual information but only for about a tenth of a second. By comparison, we can hold large amounts of unsorted auditory information for longer—up to four seconds. This initial memory storage unit doesn’t provide much use for our study of communication, as these large but quickly expiring chunks of sensory data are primarily used in reactionary and instinctual ways.

As stimuli are organized and interpreted, they make their way to short-term memory where they either expire and are forgotten or are transferred to long-term memory. Short-term memory is a mental storage capability that can retain stimuli for twenty seconds to one minute. Long-term memory is a mental storage capability to which stimuli in short-term memory can be transferred if they are connected to existing schema and in which information can be stored indefinitely (Hargie, 2011). Working memory is a temporarily accessed memory storage space that is activated during times of high cognitive demand. When using working memory, we can temporarily store information and process and use it at the same time. This is different from our typical memory function in that information usually has to make it to long-term memory before we can call it back up to apply to a current situation. People with good working memories are able to keep recent information in mind and process it and apply it to other incoming information. This can be very useful during high-stress situations. A person in control of a command center like the White House Situation Room should have a good working memory in order to take in, organize, evaluate, and then immediately use new information instead of having to wait for that information to make it to long-term memory and then be retrieved and used.

Although recall is an important part of the listening process, there isn’t a direct correlation between being good at recalling information and being a good listener. Some people have excellent memories and recall abilities and can tell you a very accurate story from many years earlier during a situation in which they should actually be listening and not showing off their recall abilities. Recall is an important part of the listening process because it is most often used to assess listening abilities and effectiveness. Many quizzes and tests in school are based on recall and are often used to assess how well students comprehended information presented in class, which is seen as an indication of how well they listened. When recall is our only goal, we excel at it. Experiments have found that people can memorize and later recall a set of faces and names with near 100 percent recall when sitting in a quiet lab and asked to do so. But throw in external noise, more visual stimuli, and multiple contextual influences, and we can’t remember the name of the person we were just introduced to one minute earlier. Even in interpersonal encounters, we rely on recall to test whether or not someone was listening. Imagine that Azam is talking to his friend Belle, who is sitting across from him in a restaurant booth. Azam, annoyed that Belle keeps checking her phone, stops and asks, “Are you listening?” Belle inevitably replies, “Yes,” since we rarely fess up to our poor listening habits, and Azam replies, “Well, what did I just say?”

When we evaluate something, we make judgments about its credibility, completeness, and worth. In terms of credibility, we try to determine the degree to which we believe a speaker’s statements are correct and/or true. In terms of completeness, we try to “read between the lines” and evaluate the message in relation to what we know about the topic or situation being discussed. We evaluate the worth of a message by making a value judgment about whether we think the message or idea is good/bad, right/wrong, or desirable/undesirable. All these aspects of evaluating require critical thinking skills, which we aren’t born with but must develop over time through our own personal and intellectual development.

Studying communication is a great way to build your critical thinking skills, because you learn much more about the taken-for-granted aspects of how communication works, which gives you tools to analyze and critique messages, senders, and contexts. Critical thinking and listening skills also help you take a more proactive role in the communication process rather than being a passive receiver of messages that may not be credible, complete, or worthwhile. One danger within the evaluation stage of listening is to focus your evaluative lenses more on the speaker than the message. This can quickly become a barrier to effective listening if we begin to prejudge a speaker based on his or her identity or characteristics rather than on the content of his or her message. We will learn more about how to avoid slipping into a person-centered rather than message-centered evaluative stance later in the chapter.

Responding entails sending verbal and nonverbal messages that indicate attentiveness and understanding or a lack thereof. From our earlier discussion of the communication model, you may be able to connect this part of the listening process to feedback. Later, we will learn more specifics about how to encode and decode the verbal and nonverbal cues sent during the responding stage, but we all know from experience some signs that indicate whether a person is paying attention and understanding a message or not.

We send verbal and nonverbal feedback while another person is talking and after they are done. Back-channel cues are the verbal and nonverbal signals we send while someone is talking and can consist of verbal cues like “uh-huh,” “oh,” and “right,” and/or nonverbal cues like direct eye contact, head nods, and leaning forward. Back-channel cues are generally a form of positive feedback that indicates others are actively listening. People also send cues intentionally and unintentionally that indicate they aren’t listening. If another person is looking away, fidgeting, texting, or turned away, we will likely interpret those responses negatively.


Listeners respond to speakers nonverbally during a message using back-channel cues and verbally after a message using paraphrasing and clarifying questions.

Duane Storey – Listening – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Paraphrasing is a responding behavior that can also show that you understand what was communicated. When you paraphrase information, you rephrase the message into your own words. For example, you might say the following to start off a paraphrased response: “What I heard you say was…” or “It seems like you’re saying…” You can also ask clarifying questions to get more information. It is often a good idea to pair a paraphrase with a question to keep a conversation flowing. For example, you might pose the following paraphrase and question pair: “It seems like you believe you were treated unfairly. Is that right?” Or you might ask a standalone question like “What did your boss do that made you think he was ‘playing favorites?’” Make sure to paraphrase and/or ask questions once a person’s turn is over, because interrupting can also be interpreted as a sign of not listening. Paraphrasing is also a good tool to use in computer-mediated communication, especially since miscommunication can occur due to a lack of nonverbal and other contextual cues.

The Importance of Listening

Understanding how listening works provides the foundation we need to explore why we listen, including various types and styles of listening. In general, listening helps us achieve all the communication goals (physical, instrumental, relational, and identity) that we learned about in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Communication Studies” . Listening is also important in academic, professional, and personal contexts.

In terms of academics, poor listening skills were shown to contribute significantly to failure in a person’s first year of college (Zabava & Wolvin, 1993). In general, students with high scores for listening ability have greater academic achievement. Interpersonal communication skills including listening are also highly sought after by potential employers, consistently ranking in the top ten in national surveys (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2010).

Poor listening skills, lack of conciseness, and inability to give constructive feedback have been identified as potential communication challenges in professional contexts. Even though listening education is lacking in our society, research has shown that introductory communication courses provide important skills necessary for functioning in entry-level jobs, including listening, writing, motivating/persuading, interpersonal skills, informational interviewing, and small-group problem solving (DiSalvo, 1980). Training and improvements in listening will continue to pay off, as employers desire employees with good communication skills, and employees who have good listening skills are more likely to get promoted.

Listening also has implications for our personal lives and relationships. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of listening to make someone else feel better and to open our perceptual field to new sources of information. Empathetic listening can help us expand our self and social awareness by learning from other people’s experiences and by helping us take on different perspectives. Emotional support in the form of empathetic listening and validation during times of conflict can help relational partners manage common stressors of relationships that may otherwise lead a partnership to deteriorate (Milardo & Helms-Erikson, 2000). The following list reviews some of the main functions of listening that are relevant in multiple contexts.

The main purposes of listening are (Hargie, 2011)

  • to focus on messages sent by other people or noises coming from our surroundings;
  • to better our understanding of other people’s communication;
  • to critically evaluate other people’s messages;
  • to monitor nonverbal signals;
  • to indicate that we are interested or paying attention;
  • to empathize with others and show we care for them (relational maintenance); and
  • to engage in negotiation, dialogue, or other exchanges that result in shared understanding of or agreement on an issue.

Listening Types

Listening serves many purposes, and different situations require different types of listening. The type of listening we engage in affects our communication and how others respond to us. For example, when we listen to empathize with others, our communication will likely be supportive and open, which will then lead the other person to feel “heard” and supported and hopefully view the interaction positively (Bodie & Villaume, 2003). The main types of listening we will discuss are discriminative, informational, critical, and empathetic (Watson, Barker, & Weaver III, 1995).

Discriminative Listening

Discriminative listening is a focused and usually instrumental type of listening that is primarily physiological and occurs mostly at the receiving stage of the listening process. Here we engage in listening to scan and monitor our surroundings in order to isolate particular auditory or visual stimuli. For example, we may focus our listening on a dark part of the yard while walking the dog at night to determine if the noise we just heard presents us with any danger. Or we may look for a particular nonverbal cue to let us know our conversational partner received our message (Hargie, 2011). In the absence of a hearing impairment, we have an innate and physiological ability to engage in discriminative listening. Although this is the most basic form of listening, it provides the foundation on which more intentional listening skills are built. This type of listening can be refined and honed. Think of how musicians, singers, and mechanics exercise specialized discriminative listening to isolate specific aural stimuli and how actors, detectives, and sculptors discriminate visual cues that allow them to analyze, make meaning from, or recreate nuanced behavior (Wolvin & Coakley, 1993).

Informational Listening

Informational listening entails listening with the goal of comprehending and retaining information. This type of listening is not evaluative and is common in teaching and learning contexts ranging from a student listening to an informative speech to an out-of-towner listening to directions to the nearest gas station. We also use informational listening when we listen to news reports, voice mail, and briefings at work. Since retention and recall are important components of informational listening, good concentration and memory skills are key. These also happen to be skills that many college students struggle with, at least in the first years of college, but will be expected to have mastered once they get into professional contexts. In many professional contexts, informational listening is important, especially when receiving instructions. I caution my students that they will be expected to process verbal instructions more frequently in their profession than they are in college. Most college professors provide detailed instructions and handouts with assignments so students can review them as needed, but many supervisors and managers will expect you to take the initiative to remember or record vital information. Additionally, many bosses are not as open to questions or requests to repeat themselves as professors are.

Critical Listening

Critical listening entails listening with the goal of analyzing or evaluating a message based on information presented verbally and information that can be inferred from context. A critical listener evaluates a message and accepts it, rejects it, or decides to withhold judgment and seek more information. As constant consumers of messages, we need to be able to assess the credibility of speakers and their messages and identify various persuasive appeals and faulty logic (known as fallacies), which you can learn more about in Chapter 11 “Informative and Persuasive Speaking” . Critical listening is important during persuasive exchanges, but I recommend always employing some degree of critical listening, because you may find yourself in a persuasive interaction that you thought was informative. As is noted in Chapter 4 “Nonverbal Communication” , people often disguise inferences as facts. Critical-listening skills are useful when listening to a persuasive speech in this class and when processing any of the persuasive media messages we receive daily. You can see judges employ critical listening, with varying degrees of competence, on talent competition shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race , America’s Got Talent , and The Voice . While the exchanges between judge and contestant on these shows is expected to be subjective and critical, critical listening is also important when listening to speakers that have stated or implied objectivity, such as parents, teachers, political leaders, doctors, and religious leaders. We will learn more about how to improve your critical thinking skills later in this chapter.

Empathetic Listening


We support others through empathetic listening by trying to “feel with” them.

Stewart Black – Comfort – CC BY 2.0.

Empathetic listening is the most challenging form of listening and occurs when we try to understand or experience what a speaker is thinking or feeling. Empathetic listening is distinct from sympathetic listening. While the word empathy means to “feel into” or “feel with” another person, sympathy means to “feel for” someone. Sympathy is generally more self-oriented and distant than empathy (Bruneau, 1993). Empathetic listening is other oriented and should be genuine. Because of our own centrality in our perceptual world, empathetic listening can be difficult. It’s often much easier for us to tell our own story or to give advice than it is to really listen to and empathize with someone else. We should keep in mind that sometimes others just need to be heard and our feedback isn’t actually desired.

Empathetic listening is key for dialogue and helps maintain interpersonal relationships. In order to reach dialogue, people must have a degree of open-mindedness and a commitment to civility that allows them to be empathetic while still allowing them to believe in and advocate for their own position. An excellent example of critical and empathetic listening in action is the international Truth and Reconciliation movement. The most well-known example of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) occurred in South Africa as a way to address the various conflicts that occurred during apartheid (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 2012). The first TRC in the United States occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, as a means of processing the events and aftermath of November 3, 1979, when members of the Ku Klux Klan shot and killed five members of the Communist Worker’s Party during a daytime confrontation witnessed by news crews and many bystanders. The goal of such commissions is to allow people to tell their stories, share their perspectives in an open environment, and be listened to. The Greensboro TRC states its purpose as such: [1]

The truth and reconciliation process seeks to heal relations between opposing sides by uncovering all pertinent facts, distinguishing truth from lies, and allowing for acknowledgement, appropriate public mourning, forgiveness and healing…The focus often is on giving victims, witnesses and even perpetrators a chance to publicly tell their stories without fear of prosecution.

Listening Styles

Just as there are different types of listening, there are also different styles of listening. People may be categorized as one or more of the following listeners: people-oriented, action-oriented, content-oriented, and time-oriented listeners. Research finds that 40 percent of people have more than one preferred listening style, and that they choose a style based on the listening situation (Bodie & Villaume, 2003). Other research finds that people often still revert back to a single preferred style in times of emotional or cognitive stress, even if they know a different style of listening would be better (Worthington, 2003). Following a brief overview of each listening style, we will explore some of their applications, strengths, and weaknesses.

  • People-oriented listeners are concerned about the needs and feelings of others and may get distracted from a specific task or the content of a message in order to address feelings.
  • Action-oriented listeners prefer well-organized, precise, and accurate information. They can become frustrated with they perceive communication to be unorganized or inconsistent, or a speaker to be “long-winded.”
  • Content-oriented listeners are analytic and enjoy processing complex messages. They like in-depth information and like to learn about multiple sides of a topic or hear multiple perspectives on an issue. Their thoroughness can be difficult to manage if there are time constraints.
  • Time-oriented listeners are concerned with completing tasks and achieving goals. They do not like information perceived as irrelevant and like to stick to a timeline. They may cut people off and make quick decisions (taking short cuts or cutting corners) when they think they have enough information.

People-Oriented Listeners

People-oriented listeners are concerned about the emotional states of others and listen with the purpose of offering support in interpersonal relationships. People-oriented listeners can be characterized as “supporters” who are caring and understanding. These listeners are sought out because they are known as people who will “lend an ear.” They may or may not be valued for the advice they give, but all people often want is a good listener. This type of listening may be especially valuable in interpersonal communication involving emotional exchanges, as a person-oriented listener can create a space where people can make themselves vulnerable without fear of being cut off or judged. People-oriented listeners are likely skilled empathetic listeners and may find success in supportive fields like counseling, social work, or nursing. Interestingly, such fields are typically feminized, in that people often associate the characteristics of people-oriented listeners with roles filled by women. We will learn more about how gender and listening intersect in Section 5 “Listening and Gender” .

Action-Oriented Listeners

Action-oriented listeners focus on what action needs to take place in regards to a received message and try to formulate an organized way to initiate that action. These listeners are frustrated by disorganization, because it detracts from the possibility of actually doing something. Action-oriented listeners can be thought of as “builders”—like an engineer, a construction site foreperson, or a skilled project manager. This style of listening can be very effective when a task needs to be completed under time, budgetary, or other logistical constraints. One research study found that people prefer an action-oriented style of listening in instructional contexts (Imhof, 2004). In other situations, such as interpersonal communication, action-oriented listeners may not actually be very interested in listening, instead taking a “What do you want me to do?” approach. A friend and colleague of mine who exhibits some qualities of an action-oriented listener once told me about an encounter she had with a close friend who had a stillborn baby. My friend said she immediately went into “action mode.” Although it was difficult for her to connect with her friend at an emotional/empathetic level, she was able to use her action-oriented approach to help out in other ways as she helped make funeral arrangements, coordinated with other family and friends, and handled the details that accompanied this tragic emotional experience. As you can see from this example, the action-oriented listening style often contrasts with the people-oriented listening style.

Content-Oriented Listeners

Content-oriented listeners like to listen to complex information and evaluate the content of a message, often from multiple perspectives, before drawing conclusions. These listeners can be thought of as “learners,” and they also ask questions to solicit more information to fill out their understanding of an issue. Content-oriented listeners often enjoy high perceived credibility because of their thorough, balanced, and objective approach to engaging with information. Content-oriented listeners are likely skilled informational and critical listeners and may find success in academic careers in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences. Ideally, judges and politicians would also possess these characteristics.

Time-Oriented Listeners

Time-oriented listeners are more concerned about time limits and timelines than they are with the content or senders of a message. These listeners can be thought of as “executives,” and they tend to actually verbalize the time constraints under which they are operating.


Time-oriented listeners listen on a schedule, often giving people limits on their availability by saying, for example, “I only have about five minutes.”

JD Lasica – Business call – CC BY-NC 2.0.

For example, a time-oriented supervisor may say the following to an employee who has just entered his office and asked to talk: “Sure, I can talk, but I only have about five minutes.” These listeners may also exhibit nonverbal cues that indicate time and/or attention shortages, such as looking at a clock, avoiding eye contact, or nonverbally trying to close down an interaction. Time-oriented listeners are also more likely to interrupt others, which may make them seem insensitive to emotional/personal needs. People often get action-oriented and time-oriented listeners confused. Action-oriented listeners would be happy to get to a conclusion or decision quickly if they perceive that they are acting on well-organized and accurate information. They would, however, not mind taking longer to reach a conclusion when dealing with a complex topic, and they would delay making a decision if the information presented to them didn’t meet their standards of organization. Unlike time-oriented listeners, action-oriented listeners are not as likely to cut people off (especially if people are presenting relevant information) and are not as likely to take short cuts.

Key Takeaways

  • Getting integrated: Listening is a learned process and skill that we can improve on with concerted effort. Improving our listening skills can benefit us in academic, professional, personal, and civic contexts.
  • Listening is the process of receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages. In the receiving stage, we select and attend to various stimuli based on salience. We then interpret auditory and visual stimuli in order to make meaning out of them based on our existing schemata. Short-term and long-term memory store stimuli until they are discarded or processed for later recall. We then evaluate the credibility, completeness, and worth of a message before responding with verbal and nonverbal signals.
  • Discriminative listening is the most basic form of listening, and we use it to distinguish between and focus on specific sounds. We use informational listening to try to comprehend and retain information. Through critical listening, we analyze and evaluate messages at various levels. We use empathetic listening to try to understand or experience what a speaker is feeling.
  • People-oriented listeners are concerned with others’ needs and feelings, which may distract from a task or the content of a message. Action-oriented listeners prefer listening to well-organized and precise information and are more concerned about solving an issue than they are about supporting the speaker. Content-oriented listeners enjoy processing complicated information and are typically viewed as credible because they view an issue from multiple perspectives before making a decision. Although content-oriented listeners may not be very effective in situations with time constraints, time-oriented listeners are fixated on time limits and listen in limited segments regardless of the complexity of the information or the emotions involved, which can make them appear cold and distant to some.
  • The recalling stage of the listening process is a place where many people experience difficulties. What techniques do you use or could you use to improve your recall of certain information such as people’s names, key concepts from your classes, or instructions or directions given verbally?
  • Getting integrated: Identify how critical listening might be useful for you in each of the following contexts: academic, professional, personal, and civic.
  • Listening scholars have noted that empathetic listening is the most difficult type of listening. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Which style of listening best describes you and why? Which style do you have the most difficulty with or like the least and why?

Bodie, G. D. and William A. Villaume, “Aspects of Receiving Information: The Relationships between Listening Preferences, Communication Apprehension, Receiver Apprehension, and Communicator Style,” International Journal of Listening 17, no. 1 (2003): 48.

Bruneau, T., “Empathy and Listening,” in Perspectives on Listening , eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 188.

Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, accessed July 13, 2012, http://www.justice.gov.za/trc .

DiSalvo, V. S. “A Summary of Current Research Identifying Communication Skills in Various Organizational Contexts,” Communication Education 29 (1980), 283–90.

Hargie, O., Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 189–99.

Imhof, M., “Who Are We as We Listen? Individual Listening Profiles in Varying Contexts,” International Journal of Listening 18, no. 1 (2004): 39.

Milardo, R. M. and Heather Helms-Erikson, “Network Overlap and Third-Party Influence in Close Relationships,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook , eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 37.

National Association of Colleges and Employers, Job Outlook 2011 (2010): 25.

Watson, K. W., Larry L. Barker, and James B. Weaver III, “The Listening Styles Profile (LS-16): Development and Validation of an Instrument to Assess Four Listening Styles,” International Journal of Listening 9 (1995): 1–13.

Wolvin, A. D. and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley, “A Listening Taxonomy,” in Perspectives on Listening , eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 18–19.

Worthington, D. L., “Exploring the Relationship between Listening Style Preference and Personality,” International Journal of Listening 17, no. 1 (2003): 82.

Zabava, W. S. and Andrew D. Wolvin, “The Differential Impact of a Basic Communication Course on Perceived Communication Competencies in Class, Work, and Social Contexts,” Communication Education 42 (1993): 215–17.

  • “About,” Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, accessed July 13, 2012, http://www.greensborotrc.org/truth_reconciliation.php . ↵

Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.



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Listening is the Key to Problem Solving


Listening is the Key to Problem Solving.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

There is a common denominator in the human experience. We all want to be heard. We all want to know that what we’re saying and feeling matters.

Oprah Winfrey, March, 2017.

Of course, to hear is not to listen.

How long was,

-Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?*

-Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech?*

-President Obama’s first inauguration speech?*

Expert Statistics:

Communicators experts assert that most people,

-Are listening at an effectiveness level of 25%;

-At home or in familiar surroundings, this listening effectiveness may fall to 10%;

-Listen attentively to most topics for an average of 12 minutes;

-Listen attentively for 20 minutes if they are really interesting in the topic;

-Talk at a rate of 125 words per minute;

-Listen at a rate of 425 words per minute.

Most people when pressed will admit that they are not listening effectively.

If one doubts these statistics, try this,

-Ask at a restaurant for water, no ice. Success chances? 15%.

-Go into a carryout alone and order two gyro lunches. Chances of getting just one? 65%.

-Example: A gets into an Uber and directs the Uber Driver to travel one mile on 11th Street, south. At each block, the Uber Driver asks, Should I turn here? The response is, No, since Uber has driven only one block not a mile.

Professor Larry Ray note: If you have any doubt about the 25% statistic, examine the exercise at the end of this blog. In my classes, before I give the lecturette on listening, I conduct this exercise. I read the story about Darlene Thomas, the Anthropologist and her work. I then surprise the class with the ten question quiz. The result? Most students answer one or two correctly. Every once in awhile, someone will get 6-8. The initial reaction to these abysmal results is to be embarrassed or blame the process or even the professor. Initially, some might say that I read it too fast. Upon reflection, they all mostly admit that they had not been listening. And this non-listening is in a classroom setting! One would expect classroom listening to be high.

I could have increased their scores by “behavior labeling;” that is, telling them what I was going to do before I did it. I could have said, I am going to read you a story and then quiz you on this reading. The lesson? If you want people to listen better, practice behavior labeling: telling them what you are going to do before you do it.

Attention Span Reduced to 8 Seconds:

One reason for this ineffective listening may be that people’s attention span may now be eight seconds.

Listening is a vital human communication skill.

-“Assume that persons have something important to say.

-Shut up and listen.

-Ask questions but not to dominate the conversation.

-People are generally not interested in your opinions but in theirs.

-Use silence.

-Put away your pen and they might start saying the most important items.

-Skilled listeners use other people’s words to persuade.”

Financial Times, Lessons in Listening, Simon Kruper.

Maybe Too Connected:

“Staying connected” is the unspoken mantra of the smartphone generation. We now have the ability to instantaneously link up with nearly any information source, and tap into a live feed of what’s happening in our social circle.

However, critics have long warned that this non-stop barrage of news and trivia is inevitably distracting, making it more difficult to maintain the focused attention necessary for truly meaningful communication.”

Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech University

“Listening Beyond Our Blind Spots.”

Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe four types of listening and help to explain why often the listening is so ineffective.

-Avoidance Listening: This type of listening is when the listener is doing many other things such as checking emails while the person is talking.

-Defensive Listening: This type of listening puts the listener almost as an adversary, busy thinking of counterpoints to whatever the speaker is saying. They quote Mark Twain: Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.

-Problem Solving Listening: Listeners are listening to solve the issue-to move forward, but often the speaker is not looking for answers. They want to be heard. Sometimes this type of listening is helpful.

-Connective Listening: This is the highest level of listening. There is genuine rapport. The listener is listening to discover where the speaker is-what is going on inside of them. One way to achieve connective listening is “active listening.”

Active Listening: Active listening is a well known concept and yet most folks still practice it. It works and helps to create a trusting relationship. There might be five steps of active listening:

1.Receive the message.

2.Understand it.

3.Evaluate it.

4.Remembering it.

5.Responding to it.

-Make eye contact.

-Keep an open mind.

-Don’t be a sentence grabber (finishing sentences)

-Try to picture.

-Remember key words and phrases.

-Put yourself in their shoes.

-Mimicry, nonverbal/verbal.

It is interesting to note that listen and silence spelled with the same letters. An embedded lesson?

The Beacon Newspapers.com, April, 2019, Teacher Alexis Bentz.

Reflecting Listening:

“There are three basic levels of reflective listening that may deepen or increase the

intimacy and thereby change the affective tone of an interaction. In general, the

depth should match the situation. Examples of the three levels include:

1. Repeating or rephrasing – listener repeats or substitutes synonyms or

phrases; stays close to what the speaker has said

2. Paraphrasing – listener makes a major restatement in which the speaker’s

meaning is inferred

3. Reflection of feeling – listener emphasizes emotional aspects of

communication through feeling statements – deepest form of listening

(Adapted from Motivational Interviewing materials by David B. Rosengren, Ph.D. and from Motivational Interviewing by Miller & Rollnick, 1991)

We Often Hear What We Are Accustomed to Hearing.

Here’s is an example that portrays this principle:

An entomologist (E) and an accountant (A) were walking on the downtown sidewalk.

E: Listen to the cicadas.

A: We are in the city. How do you hear cicadas?

E did not respond but reached in his pocket, found a coin and dropped it to the sidewalk. A along with other passersby heard and recognized this sound.

E: We hear what we are accustomed to hearing.

We Often Only Hear What We Want to Hear.

Singer Paul Simon, The Boxer: Man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

Scientifically, this may be called, Pareidolia. “ Here’s an example: If someone tells you that you can totally hear “Paul is dead” when you play the Beatles ‘Revolution 9’ in reverse, you may in fact “hear” it because that’s what you expect to hear. In other words, if you’re looking for patterns, you may very well find them—even if they’re only figments of your imagination!”


More broadly, most have poor listening skills and are really thinking of the next thing they are going to say. Often they are not ready to hear bad or negative information. This happens in performance reviews or in the workplace when someone is giving feedback.

The cognitive limitation of “confirmation bias” also plays a role here. People will selectively listen for information that validates their beliefs and opinions. This type of listening impedes creative problem solving.

Communication Styles and Listening:

There are a variety of instruments that classify communication styles:


These are listed in four quadrants defined by two continua: assertiveness and outward warmth. The vertical continuum is outward warmth (high to low). Amiable and expressive are high in outward warmth; analytic and driver are low in outward warmth.

The horizontal continuum is “assertiveness (low to high).” Amiable and analytic are low assertiveness; expressive and driver are high in assertiveness.

It seems predictable that if one with an amiable style is trying to communicate including listening with a driver, it is challenging. If an expressive communication style is trying to communicate (listen) with an analytic, also challenging.

What does one do? First, communication styles are behaviors and behaviors can be tweaked, flexed or even changed. If an analytic style is communicating with an expressive, in the ideal, both would flex their style to come more to the middle; this, improving listening.

Author Mark Goulston also discusses this in his 10/9/2013 Blog. If one is communicating with a “venter/screamer,” let them get it out of their system. Then reflect their most important points. By reframing it to the most important points, they will usually listen and correct.

If one is communicating with an “explainer/belaborer,” check one’s impatience and annoyance. After one has listened, play back to them the most important points and the action plan steps.

Listening Style Preferences.

Another issue is listening style preferences. These are often cataloged in this way:

-People oriented Listeners are concerned about relationships, generally nonjudgmental and sensitive to moods.

-Action-oriented Listeners are focused on the task at hand and anxious to get to the point.

-Content-oriented Listeners are evaluators and anxious to hear details.

-Time-oriented Listeners are efficient and useful in getting projects accomplished.

So, one needs to recognize that these are mostly learned behaviors. Thus, one can value one’s preferences and respect others preferences so to increase the listening.

(American Management Association, Building Better Work Relationships)


Dr. Ralph Nichols, “father of the study of listening” and member of International Listening Association (Bell Plaine, MN)

1. The most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood.

2. It is almost impossible to hate a person whom we fully understand.

3. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

4. We are at the mercy of those who understand us better than we understand them.

5. When people make a decision, it is for their reasons, not ours.

6. The wise listener is attentive, and non-evaluative; he asks only unslanted questions, and praises those statements by an adversary which he can honestly praise.

7. We must face with courage the fact that when we succeed in “hearing a person out,” our own position may become quite modified.

8. Loyalty is not the highest of all virtues, normally being surpassed by honesty, compassion, and justice.

9. Common human needs do provide our best basis for the resolution of conflict.

10. When truth and falsehood are presented with equal skill, truth is always more persuasive

* 1Lincoln’s Second Inauguration Speech-maybe his best: 700 words-often called Sermon on the Mount. Engraved in the Lincoln Memorial and summed up the meaning of the Civil War. Speech is best known for its closing: “malice toward none, with charity for all. Speech contained many Biblical reference. (At the time, 1/8 of the population was slaves. Also John Wilkes Booth was spotted in the inaugural celebration.) Wikipedia.

I have a Dream Speech aka Normalcy No More MLK 18 minutes

18 minutes: Obama’s Inauguration Speech (2,402 words)

Lincoln’s second inauguration speech = 720 words, shorter than Obama’s

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Empathy Movement Home > Reflective Listening Links

http://j.mp/Vildm3 Be like a mirror - reflect back what you think, feel and sense that the speaker is saying and feeling.

Work to clear the mirror so that you can reflect more clearly.

The different types of listening skills used in human communication: (Wikipedia)

Empathic Listening - By Richard Salem - bearmarketscience.blogspot.com

"Empathic listening (also called active listening or reflective listening) is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It is an essential skill for third parties and disputants alike, as it enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker's message, and then provide an appropriate response. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation. Among its benefits, empathic listening

builds trust and respect,

enables the disputants to release their emotions,

reduces tensions,

encourages the surfacing of information, and

creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving."

Active Listening by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson   ***** "Active listening does not necessarily mean long sessions spent listening to grievances, personal or otherwise. It is simply a way of approaching those problems which arise out of the usual day-to-day events of any job. To be effective, active listening must be firmly grounded in the basic attitudes of the user. We cannot employ it as a technique if our fundamental attitudes are in conflict with its basic concepts. If we try, our behavior will be empty and sterile, and our associates will be quick to recognize this. Until we can demonstrate a spirit which genuinely respects the potential worth of the individual, which considers his sights and trusts his capacity for sell-direction, we cannot begin to be effective listeners"

"The active-listening approach, on the other hand, does not present a threat to the individual’s selfpicture. He does not have to defend it. He is able to explore it, see it for what it is, and make his own decision about how realistic it is. And he is then in a position to change." "Like other behavior, listening behavior is contagious. This has implications for all communication problems, whether between two people or within a large organization. To ensure good communication between associates up and down the line, one must first take the responsibility for setting a pattern of listening. Just as one learns that anger is usually met with anger, argument with argument, and deception with deception, one can learn that listening can be met with listening. "

(Has a section on "Problems in Active Listening:)   Active listening is not an easy skill to acquire. It demands practice. Perhaps more important, it may require changes in our own basic attitudes. These changes come slowly and sometimes with considerable difficulty. Let us look at some of the major problems in active listening and what can be done to overcome them."

1. we risk being changed ourselves… 2. changes the way we view ourselves 3. must have since interest in the other.  
Reflective listening - Wikipedia "Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to "reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client". Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening. It arose from Carl Rogers' school of client-centered therapy in counseling theory."    "Summarizing what the speaker said, using the listener’s own words. This is different than paraphrasing, where words and phrases are moved around and replaced to mirror what the speaker said. The reflective listener recaps the message using his own words."   Active listening - Wikipedia "Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties. The ability to listen actively demonstrates sincerity, and that nothing is being assumed or taken for granted. Active listening is most often used to improve personal relationships, reduce misunderstanding and conflicts, strengthen cooperation, and foster understanding. It is proactive, accountable and professional"       Appreciative listening   - Wikipedia Appreciative listening   is a type of listening behavior where the listener seeks certain information which will appreciate, for example that which helps meet his/her needs and goals. One uses appreciative listening when listening to good   music ,   poetry   or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader.
7 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills [With Examples ] Andrei Kurtuy What Is Active Listening? 7 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Technique Benefits of Active Listening Active Listening in Practice - 5 Examples 10 Active Listening Skills
Dialogic Listening:   "Dialogic Listening: Sculpting Mutual Meanings," "The authors contrast dialogic listening to active or empathic approaches. The dialogic approach has four distinctive characteristics. First, it emphasizes conversation as a shared activity. Usually people focus their attention on their own views in conversation. Active listening overcompensates for this tendency by overemphasizing the need to focus attention on the other's views. In contrast, in dialogic listening the focus is on "our" views and the emerging product of the conversation."   Second, dialogic listening stresses an open-ended, playful attitude toward conversation. The authors note that modern Western culture values "hard" thinking which produces certainty, closure, and control. Speculative, metaphoric, ambiguous thinking is generally devalued. Dialogic listening seeks to recover and tap into the productive creativity of this "softer" style of thinking. In contrast to the "hard" style of most conversations, the "soft" style of dialogic listening requires modesty, humility, trust, and a robust recognition of the other party as a choice-maker. Third, in dialogic listening, the parties focus on what is happening between them, rather than each party focusing on what is going on within the mind of the other. Stewart and Thomas say, "instead of trying to infer internal 'psychic' states from the talk, when you are listening dialogically you join with the other person in the process of co-creating meaning between you." Finally, dialogic listening focuses on the present (what we are doing now), rather than primarily on future goals (what we will do), or on past events (what we did then). Dialogic listening requires that one be fully present to the process and one's conversation partner. This attitude of being-in-the-present helps each party to unify his or her actions, intentions, and speech. It can also ameliorate power differences."

Dialogic Listening

Dialogic listening is an alternative to active listening which was developed by John Stewart and Milt Thomas. Dialogic listening has four distinctive characteristics.  

First, it emphasizes conversation as a shared activity.  It encourages people to attend to their own views--and the other person's views--at the same time, while active listening focuses primarily on the other person's views alone. 

Second, it takes an open-ended--the authors even say "playful"--attitude toward conversation.   It demands modesty, humility, trust, and recognition of the opponent as a choice-maker. 

Third, the parties focus on what is happening between them, not what is going on in the mind of one or the other person. 

And fourth, dialogic listening focuses on the present, rather than on the future or on the past.

Active Listening "Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don=t listen attentively. They are often distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else. When people are engaged in a conflict, they are often busy formulating a response to what is being said. They assume that they have heard what their opponent is saying many times before, so rather than paying attention, they focus on how they can respond to win the argument. Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener=s own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker--he or she must simply state what they think the speaker said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener really understood. If the listener did not, the speaker can explain some more."
LISTENING - A KEY LEADERSHIP SKILL First, close your mouth; then open your heart By Gail Reichert How well do you listen? Listening is a key leadership skill identified in many leadership  competency models, either explicitly, or embedded under the general domain of  communication. ‘Of all the time we spend in communication, by far the greatest is spent in listening.’  

Changingminds.org - Types of Listening

" Many types of listening - There are many names for different types of listening. Here is a collection of types and the different names that get ascribed to them, along with a brief description of each." It is said that we have two ears and one mouth, which is a good hint for the proportion in which we should use them. However, the art of listening is not a widely practiced skill. Listening provides much useful information, yet good listening skills are not that common. Active listening : Building relationship by listening. All types of listening : A comprehensive and linked list. Bad listening habits : Ways not to listen. Critical Listening : Listening to evaluate. Depth of listening : False, partial, full and deep. Dialogic listening : Seeking true understanding. Environmental factors : Sensory and physiological factors. Good listening habits : To cultivate and use. High-integrity listening : Combining open listening and honest responses. Listen to the inner person : Identify their deep drivers. Listener preferences : Preferences people have when listening. Listening styles : According to Barker and Watson. Types of listening : From discriminative to dialogic. Why you should listen : You can achieve a lot just by listening. Why people do not listen : If you know these, you can address them.  

Culture of Empathy Builder: Stephen Covey

Using Empathic Listening to Collaborate - Stephen R. Covey.

"When I say empathic listening, I am not referring to the techniques of "active" listening or "reflective" listening, which basically involve mimicking what another person says. That kind of listening is skill-based, truncated from character and relationships, and often insults those "listened" to in such a way. It is also essentially autobiographical. If you practice those techniques, you may not project your autobiography in the actual interaction, but your motive in listening is autobiographical. You listen with reflective skills, but you listen with intent to reply, to control, to manipulate. When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It's an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel..  

In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel."

Active Listening (analytictech.com)

Reflective listening has its roots in the fields of counseling and psychotherapy, particularly in Carl Rogers's "client-centered" therapy.  

Expressed verbally and nonverbally though messages such as "I follow you," "I’m with vou" or "I understand," empathy is the listener's effort to hear the other person deeply, accurately, and non-judgmentally. A person who sees that a listener is really trying to understand his or her meanings will be willing to explore his or her problems and self more deeply.

This really is truly the single most important verbal skill that you will ever learn in your whole entire life .

Teachers and Parents use more than any other skill. And this Reflective listening goes under many different names or identities, such as  

The Empathic Ear

Active Listening

The Understanding Response

Verbal Pacing


The Skill of Reflective Listening - with children

Motivate people

Reflective Listening - The main principles of reflective listening are:

Reflective Listening: Reflective Listening Exercise.


The Benefits of Empathic Listening "Empathic listening (also called active listening or reflective listening) is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It is an essential   skill for third parties and disputants alike, as it enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker's message, and then provide an appropriate response. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation. Among its benefits, empathic listening builds   trust   and respect, enables the disputants to release their emotions, reduces tensions, encourages the surfacing of information, and creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative   problem solving ."   When you listen well," Burley-Allen acknowledge the speaker, increase the speaker's self-esteem and confidence, tell the speaker, "You are important" and "I am not judging you," gain the speaker's cooperation, reduce stress and tension, build teamwork, gain trust, elicit openness, gain a sharing of ideas and thoughts, and obtain more valid information about the speakers and the subject."

Reflective Listening - David B. Rosengren It is vital to learn to think reflectively . This is a way of thinking that accompanies good reflective listening that includes interest in what the person has to say and respect for the person's inner wisdom. Its key element is a hypothesis testing approach to listening. What you think the person means may not be what they really mean. Listening breakdowns occur in any of three places:

There are three basic levels of reflective listening that may deepen or increase the intimacy and thereby change the affective tone of an interaction. In general, the depth should match the situation. Examples of the three levels include:

1. Repeating or rephrasing – listener repeats or substitutes synonyms or phrases; stays close to what the speaker has said 2. Paraphrasing – listener makes a major restatement in which the speaker’s meaning is inferred 3. Reflection of feeling – listener emphasizes emotional aspects of communication through feeling statements – deepest form of listening

Active Listening is an Effective Listening Skill and Strategy

Theories of Communication: How to Listen Actively:

While the other person is talking – you must   concentrate on not talking . Pay attention. Look directly at the speaker. While the other person is talking –   listen, don’t prepare your reply . Focus hard on this and practice listening, not responding. Ask for time to respond   if you need it (a few minutes, later, tomorrow). Pay attention   to how the person is behaving (e.g. yelling or screaming is a pretty clear indicator, but not all behaviors are that obvious). Pay attention   to the person’s body language. Demonstrate that you are listening : use your body language to affirm that you are listening, e.g. nod your head or shake your head. Paraphrase or translate what the person said; reflect it back to them. This is called   reflective listening – you reflect back   what you think you have heard, it is a good technique for ensuring there is clear understanding. For example, in dealing with angry customers focus on how you think they feel: "So that I’m sure that I understand clearly, you seem to be frustrated with our shipping time..." Another example, in dealing with a question from an employee: "I want to make sure I understand your request clearly; you need to work shorter days due to your school schedule." You are   not necessarily agreeing   with their position, you are re-stating what they said to ensure understanding and clarity. Recognize the individual’s feelings : "you seem to be frustrated"; "you sound angry"; "you seem to be upset"

Effective Listening Skills - An essential for good communication (managementstudyguide.com)

To conclude, effective listening enhances the communication quality. It makes all attentive. It  encourages optimistic attitude, healthy relations and more participation. It leads to better decision- making in an organization. Effective listening is directly related to our ability to do team work. It must be noted that “We listen at about an efficiency rate of 25 percent maximum, and we remember only about 50 percent of what is delivered during a ten minute speech/lecture/communication.”  

Active Listening   (wanterfall.com) Summary of Benefits of Active Listening All of the personal qualities at the disposal of the listener can be brought to bear more effectively by employing the technique of Active Listening. It is a formidable method of simultaneously communicating and helping, and a far more powerful tool than its simple name suggests. When it is used skilfully, Active Listening can:

Demonstrate the listener's undivided attention

Encourage the client to continue speaking

Restart a completely stalled narrative

Reassure the client regarding self-disclosure

Confirm the listener's understanding – or…

Correct errors in the listener's understanding

Fill any gaps in the content of the narrative

Improve the listener's overall understanding

Improve the client's insight into the issues

Demonstrate the listener orientation to the client

Progressively build rapport between listener and client

How to Have Successful Group Meetings (successful-meetings.tripod.com) Barriers to Listening There are many barriers to listening attentively and comprehending verbal communication. First unchecked emotions can play a large role. Anger, fear, and depression can effect how one might listen to the speaker. Also called emotional noise, this might cause listener apprehension. For example, talking with a professor can be frightening, which might cause poor listening. Being self-absorbed can also affect listening. Thinking about yourself or your next comment stops your focus on the speaker. Language differences will cause a strain on listening and comprehension. Also, external noise and verbal clutter can be very distracting and will cause attention shifts among the listener. If the listener is not interested or the information is not wanted, boredom can occur. Information Overload can cause the listener to remove him/herself mentally from the discussion. Also, Information rate will cause boredom or attention shifts.... (Guidelines for Good Listening).

Information overload

Unchecked emotions

Noise and verbal clutter

Information rate

Attention shifts

Listener apprehension  

Active/Reflective Listening Skills - lesson plans Students will identify types of communication styles, explain active/effective listening skills, and demonstrate the ability to use active listening skills.

roll playing

don't have patience's

simple and engaging

KID SMART: Learning to Listen - lesson plan (fcs.tennessee.edu) Reflective listening is a skill that parents can use to improve communications with their children. When parents demonstrate that they understand their children’s feelings, children are more likely to be open with  their parents and talk to them about problems or things going on in their lives.

WHAT IS ACTIVE LISTENING? (education2.uvic.ca)

Empathy is most effective when it matches the person's feelings, thoughts, and meaning. In essence, feelings become interchangeable. However, if the peer support giver intensifies the feelings by adding to what the person says, a deeper level can be reached. For example, if the person says, "I feel so down today," the peer support giver can move more deeply if he/she says something like this: "You feel really sad today." When "sad" is used instead of "down," intensity is added, which allows the person to admit he/she is "sad." Often feelings having a negative aspect are difficult to admit, and so when the peer support giver suggests an emotion, it is somehow easier for the person to admit. An important occurrence is that, as the person talks about feelings, she/he actually feels them. It becomes difficult not to feel anger, for example, when it is talked about.


1. are an active listener paying attention not only to how something is said, but also to what is said;

2. reflect feelings by identifying and intensifying them;

3. do not block communication by ordering, advising, moralizing, excessively reassuring, bombarding with questions, arguing, criticizing, withdrawing, and interpreting.

Active Listening - finntrack.co.uk

"Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener's own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker--he or she must simply state what they think the speaker said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener really understood. If the listener did not, the speaker can explain some more. Often, the listener is encouraged to interpret the speaker's words in terms of feelings...

Active listening has several benefits.

First, it forces people to listen attentively to others.

 Second, it avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they do really understand what another person has said.

Third, it tends to open people up, to get them to say more.

When people are in conflict, they often contradict each other, denying the opponent's description of a situation. This tends to make people defensive, and they will either lash out, or withdraw and say nothing more. However, if they feel that their opponent is really attuned to their concerns and wants to listen, they are likely to explain in detail what they feel and why. If both parties to a conflict do this, the chances of being able to develop a solution to their mutual problem becomes much greater."

Imago Therapy

What is Imago Therapy?

Founders of Imago Therapy, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. explain what Imago Therapy is and how to do it. You can learn more about Imago Therapy and Dialogue and ways to make your marriage or relationship even better at GettingTheLoveYouWant.com

Imago Relationships International Video Channel - various videos on the topic.

Imago - Through Conflict to Connection

Harville Hendrix, Ph. D .   Website

Transform Your Relationship - Part 7: The Couple's Dialogue

Harville Hendrix - Imago Therapy for Couples Counseling: Part four Work on couples relationships as the core of social change. It was the loss of empathic resonance that causes the disconnection.

Reflective Listening

Reflective Listening -- A Powerful Skill!

Two Truths About Reflective Listening

AMAZING technique to improve Empathic Listening - Dr. Stephen R. Covey - Indian Talking Stick "You've got the talking stick"

The skill of reflecting back the meanings and feelings of group members in order to test out the leader's understanding of their messages (empathic listening). Carl Rogers referred to it as "reflection of feelings."

Effective Listening Skills

Un derstanding Approaches: Person Centred and Process Experiential Emotion Focused Therapy Professor Robert Elliott of the University of Strathclyde

The Person Centered 'Nation' approach split into (Tribes)

Classical Relational Person Centered - Carl Rodgers - warmth, empathy, congruence

Experiential therapist - what is the clients process - how they change

Focusing - Gene Gendlin - look inside your body and feel things

 Focusing Institute

Process Experiential Approach - (emotion focused) Less Greenburg, Robert Elliott - markers for change

Pre therapist - not in contact with reality - physical reflection

Gestalt Dialog -

Doesn't mention it but Nonviolent Communication seems like an offshoot

Children Focusing ** - being seriously playful with René Veugelers http://youtu.be/SjFXedd-do8 has model of inner listening and being reflected.. The reflection gives you time and space to connect with what is going on inside of yourself. Seems to relate to self-empathy, connecting and feeling more deeply into your body.   René Veugelers - "Children learn: to trust their deep inner sense of rightness to bring their awareness to the inside of the body to know that it is helpful to listen to bodily feelings to make a stronger connection with their inner bodily awareness" more       " The Interactive Focusing Process   is a forward moving edge of Focusing, incorporating Focusing into the building of relationships. Through the Interactive Focusing Process, we are able to develop empathy and compassion as well as self-empathy and self-compassion. We finally have a "how to" teach empathy and compassion using the Interactive Focusing Process."   Interactive Focusing - Storyteller as Teacher ** http://youtu.be/Q71XtOPk_Do http://interactivefocusing.com Reflective listening, getting to the deeper qualities. I want to be listened to with empathy and compassion. They have 4 building blocks 1. Right environment - safety 2. The body felt sense 3. Compassionate - empathic listening from the bodysence 4. Storyteller as teacher The idea of the "Storyteller as teacher!"   I'm teaching the listener how to listen to me. (love this) Strategies to help the listener be a better mirror for you.  Say, 'You got the words but is not the feeling.'  There's a continuous feedback loop - the speaker is resonating back to the reflector if they were heard the way they want to be heard.  I'm teaching the listener how to listen empathically to me.  this is so simple but is a key peace. the story teller is the best teacher This approach is very empowering for the listener and for both people. The listeners can feel tense since they feel it's a bit of a test for them to get it right. I know it is for me. Others have said the same.  It can make you tense - but it doesn't need to be. In their process before, the emphasis was on the listener to get it right. But now it's on the speaker to assist the listener to be a better mirror. If we need to be heard, it's perhaps a certain quality of hearing that we want. We're working together so that we're getting empathically heard. Maybe it's team work to clear both peoples mirror. What we're doing in this part of the empathy circles is mirrored empathy.  What are the qualities of mirrored empathy? How can we be better mirrors. Conflicts, misunderstandings, etc can cloud the mirror. It's not just mirroring the words, but the the feel, the tone, the intentions, etc of the other. I'm standing in front of the mirror, cleaning and polishing it so that I can see myself reflected in the other. They are doing the same in me.  They want their process to be very experiential way of teaching the listener.     Introduction - Interactive Focusing     http://youtu.be/f_BgHKnh8Xc   Introduction - Interactive Focusing Process Standard Focusing and Interactive Focusing The foundation is speaking from the bodily felt sense Interactive Focusing Steps Storyteller and listener The storyteller shares and then comes to a 'resting place' The Double Empathic movement. Listener trying to get how it was for the speaker Take a special moment - the listener concentrates on getting the bodysence of the speaker. The speaker checking in on themselves. At the same time, the speaker goes inside of themselves to their felt sense. Switch roles what was touched in the listener about what the speaker Another Double Empathic movement. At the end, Post sharing, do a relationship check.  Check in the moment.  how am I with me and how are you with me. Ask the person,  "how are you with me now?" I've shared about me, you've shared about you. How do you feel about me now? How do I feel about me that I've said all this about me? This is very important with the relationship. [how about adding some body movements of the felt sense and having them be reflected. - what are we trying to do with the reflection. people the fire together wire together?] *** interactivefocusing.com   Interactive Focusing makes room for   empathy   in a way heretofore not explored, both through the experience-by-experience   healing listening   and the   empathic moment . Healing listening is bodysense-to-bodysense communication. The empathic moment is the "golden moment" of the interaction, the moment of concentrated, deepened empathy during which the entire relationship often shifts.   The model includes a   relationship check   which I call an anomaly in relationships -- the feared and simultaneously desired checking in with one another to see where you are in the relationship with each other and with yourself in this new moment after having shared yourself so deeply. It is a model of balance. It is non-authoritarian and non-hierarchical."   " relief for the therapist/listener . . . who is relieved of the ever present feeling in many therapists that they need to be "perfect listeners."   Interactive Focusing Format  

Person-centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy   - wikipedia also known as person-centered psychotherapy, person-centered counseling, client-centered therapy and Rogerian psychotherapy. PCT is a form of talk-psychotherapydeveloped by psychologist Carl Rogers...  goal of PCT is to provide patients with an opportunity to develop a sense of self wherein they can realize how their attitudes, feelings and behavior are being negatively affected and make an effort to find their true positive potential In this technique, therapists create a comfortable, non-judgmental environment by demonstrating  congruence (genuineness),  empathy, and unconditional positive regard toward their patients while using a non-directive approach. This aids patients in finding their own solutions to their problems Although this technique has been criticized by behaviorists for lacking structure and by psychoanalysts for actually providing a conditional relationship. it has proven to be an effective and popular treatment... Therapist Empathic understanding:   the therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference. Accurate empathy on the part of the therapist helps the client believe the therapist's unconditional love for them... Empathy   -Understand and appreciate the client's feeling throughout the therapy session. The British Association for the Person-Centred Approach  "is an organisation that embraces and promotes the person-centred way-of-being: the striving to create relatonships based in genuine acceptance and empathic understanding."  more links   Relational Empathy: Beyond Modernist Egocentricism to Postmodern Holistic Contextualism Maureen O'Hara - Center for Studies of the Person Interesting empathy article   CARL ROGERS & GLORIA COUNSELLING - Part 1 , PT 2, PT3, PT4, PT5  

Constructivist Listening

Constructivist Listening for Empowerment and Change

"Constructivist listening differs from active listening in that the listener does not paraphrase or interpret the talker's thoughts or feelings. Although active listening is often useful in solving relational or organizational problems, interpretations by the listener usually interfere with the talker's fully exploring the thought or feeling, expressing emotion, and developing understanding. If the listener is allowed to interpret, he or she may, perhaps unwittingly, cut off the expression of feelings or manipulate the talker into avoiding emotions with which the listener is uncomfortable. Interpretation may also lead to the talker becoming dependent on the listener for meaning or approval. Constructivist  listening is not passive listening. " The Constructivist Listening Dyad "Purpose: To create a safe space to become better at listening and talking in depth. Constructivist listening dyads help us as we work through feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that sometimes produce anger, passivity, undermine confidence, or cause interference in relationships with students or colleagues.

Microlab & Constructivist Listening Part 2

Co-Counselling Well organized resources, lot's of information and perhaps a model for peer lead organizations and processes.

Co-Counselling International (UK) "The site is primarily about CCI co-counselling in the UK. This site has information about CCI co-counselling generally and in other countries. Co-counselling is reciprocal peer counselling: Reciprocal: co-counsellors take it in equal turns to be client and counsellor. Peer: everyone is equal, there are no "experts" trying to "sort out" other people. Counselling: it is a bit like other forms of counselling in that one person listens while the other talks (or "works" in other ways), but there the similarity ends. It is the person being client who is in charge of the session and the person being counsellor mainly just gives very good attention." Co-Counselling - is a reciprocal way of working that takes place between peers. It is based on an equal exchange of time and skills, with no money changing hands. Neither party is the expert: instead both have been trained in the same set of skills.   " Co-counselling is a grassroots method of personal change based on reciprocal peer counseling. It uses simple methods. Time is shared equally and the essential requirement of the person taking their turn in the role of counselor is to do their best to listen and give their full attention to the other person. It is not a discussion; the aim is to support the person in the client role to work through their own issues in a mainly self-directed way."   Co-Counselling Manual "Co-counselling is a method of personal development through mutual support for persons of all ages and both sexes including, with suitable modifications, children. It is not for those who are too emotionally distressed to give attention to a fellow human on a reciprocal basis. It is a tool for living for those who are already managing their lives acceptably by conventional standards, but wish significantly to enhance their sense of personal identity and personal effectiveness. It is part of a continuing education for living which affirms the peer principle."  Co-counselling (9): What happens in a session  

Counselling Roleplay - Reflecting, paraphrasing and summarizing only

Counselling Roleplay - Asking only Open Questions

Documentation as a form of reflection

see the documenting of the circles a a form of reflection

reflecting out onto a medium.

Reflective listening etiquette

When you get reflected, and the part you feel has been adequately reflected back to you, you can say  "I feel heard." You can then go on and share more.

When you feel you have said all that you would like to say, and that you feel satisfied that you have been fully heard,  and are ready to pass on the spotlight to the next person, you can say, "I feel fully heard! "

In Reflective Listening we are listening to;

The Arts as Reflection

use the arts somehow to reflect yourself and others

Johan Galtung says empathy is like an actor taking on the role of someone else. They become that person.

Some mimics can reflect or impersonate someone to an extraordinary degree

a painting as a reflection of someone's spirit.

Interview with Rob Kall, he says he mirrors peoples faces when he is driving to see what they are feeling

Design tools reflection

Mental-model-diagrams etc.

Replying with

state matching

motion matching

word matching

sound matching

Theory and Background

this is the foundation of Carl Rodgers work - we are building on that.

based on mirror neurons

based on mirror neurons - what we want to do

reframe and define the reflective listening in terms of mirror neurons

we are wanted to clean the mirror with reflective listening

we can reflect with out words

this is the core of the restorative circle process

once people have been fully heard and connected, action will flow out of it.

Mirroring  - find resonance tools - process

Reflective listening

Models of Reflection --------------------------------------

Hammock Weaving Intention: to build a culture of empathy? Speaker 1 (speak) > Speaker 2 (reflect) >  Speaker 2 (speak) >  Speaker 1 (reflect) >  etc

Focused on one person reflection

Speaker 1 (speak) > Speaker 2 (reflect) >  Speaker 4 (reflect) >  Speaker 5 (reflect) >  Speaker 7 (reflect) > 

Add Role Playing

Add Metaphors

the quality of the action can be reflected.

the other person is not reflecting

ask for a reflection

are you feeling me?

have a group where you can feel reflected.

Reflection on the

present feelings

past feelings

action feelings\\\

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Analytical Listening: definition and theory

Analytical Listening - Toolshero

Analytical Listening Style: this article describes the concept of the Analytical Listening Style in a practical way. This article begins with a general definition of the Analytical Listening style, followed by some examples, its pitfalls and the connection of this listening style with problem solving. Enjoy reading!

What is Analytical Listening?

The definition of analytical listening.

Analytical Listening is about the ability and the capacity to properly analyse what is being said. This not only means understanding what the other person is saying and what they mean to say, but also being able to divide difficult questions into separate parts in order to get to the core.

Analytical Listening sounds easier than it is. Distinguishing between central and peripheral issues is a prerequisite.

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Apart from that, common listening techniques help. The objective of Analytical Listening is to quickly see logical connections, as well as detecting possible gaps in all the information.

Listening, Summarising and Dig deeper (LSD) technique

The LSD technique is definitely useful when it comes to Analytical Listening. It stands for Listening, Summarising and Dig deeper.

Listening is actually hearing what the other is saying. This means full concentration on the other’s story is needed, as well as a thorough sinking in of the information.

Briefly summarising what the other is saying is usually enough to get to the core.

Moreover, it causes the other to feel like they are being heard and able to offer additions if the summary is (not) yet complete. By giving a short summary, the listener gives themselves time to let the information sink in and understand what they just heard. This is followed by digging deeper to get down to the core.

Origin from Audio Productions?

Analytical Listening is originally a way of listening to audio productions, where the meaning of the sounds is interpreted correctly by the listener.

It is often used by professionals working on audio productions.

This Listening Style is actively engaged with the music they are listening to; each element of a piece of music is analysed in order to understand the intentions of the composer and/or lyricist. During Analytical Listening, the listener looks for the deeper meaning of what is heard. Sound itself has no meaning; it’s about the underlying layer.

When someone says something, it’s not just about the contents. It’s especially the way they say it that gives meaning to the words. This intonation also applies in music.

The underlying emotional implications of a musical performance indicate the composer’s meaning and intentions. Music is more than simply a mix of sounds. The composer and/ or lyricist is always trying to convey a meaning or emotion, such as happiness, sadness, anger, or love.

Thus, music can be made about an endless array of subjects and emotions . This means there are many details for the listener to find. It’s about finding out the message behind the message.

Analytical capacity

Analytical ability is very useful in many other occupations as well, however. Think of leadership roles, technical occupations, and the medical world, where it comes down to making many analyses.

Listening analytically means looking at differences, possible risks , and the things that make no sense. By analysing these, the cause of the problem becomes clear.

Addressing this will make the information clearer for both parties. In some cases, the analytical listener will cause the other to feel annoyed. The other may feel ‘caught’ regarding the fact that they did not provide complete information. By supporting and encouraging them, both parties will find common ground again.

Analytical capacity is a trait that applies to the analytical listener. This analytical ability is a quality that usually goes hand in hand with other abilities one has, such as empathic capacity , inquisitiveness, curiosity, desire to learn, being critical and open-minded.

Analytical capacity is a mixture of all these traits and abilities.

Apart from the power of this Listening Style, there are also a number of pitfalls. For example, those who are strongly analytically minded and capable of good analytical thought tend to think things through too much and hesitate too much before coming up with a final judgment.

Because of their analytical capacity, such a person will first go over all the options, weigh them, and closely examine all the pros and cons before making a choice. The indecisiveness this brings may be experienced by their environment as highly annoying.

The previously mentioned danger that the conversation partner will feel attacked is also a potential issue. This is because the analytical listener ask a lot of questions, which can make them seem distrustful towards their conversation partner.

Besides deeper questions, the analytical listener will ask many ‘why’ questions, which people will often not be able to answer. The tip is to look for the answers together and not put the other on the spot. That could be felt as a negative confrontation, which stalls the conversation and could make it take a different turn.

Apart from that, the analytical listener is ‘allergic’ to ad hoc solutions that should be implemented in the short term.

In some situations, however, they will need to accept these because not doing so would interfere with business operations.

To the analytical listener, this will feel like implementing poorly thought out solutions without having made a correct diagnosis. Depending on the situation, the analytical listener may have to learn to accept this.

Analytical Listening & Decision Making

Analytical Listening forms one of the foundations of good decision making. Listening thoroughly and analytically makes it easier to reconstruct a situation and find a solution rationally. This will then lead to optimal decisions. Especially when it comes to decision making,

Analytical Listening is a large part of a leadership skill set. Complex problems are more easily understood, meaning a better prediction can be made as to which solution or method would be best. It can therefore contribute to all kinds of business roles that call for good planning and decision making.

Listening Skills Course: The Ultimate Workplace Soft Skills Increase your Listening Skills to Advance Your Career   More information

Analytical Listening & Problem Solving

Moreover, Analytical Listening helps bring balance to a conversation and process information objectively.

In conversation with others, feeling plays an important role. When the atmosphere of the conversation is good, chances are objectivity will disappear into the background.

Being mindful of this allows for a balance to be created between feeling and logical reasoning. Analyses of causes can be made, after which the consequences of a problem can be better detected as well. An analytical listener is able to critically look at elements of a problem and apply models to them.

By distinguishing main problems from partial problems, the analytic listener can collect a lot of information, then research it.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What are your experiences with Analytical Listening? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have any more additions? Does Analytical Listening help you to get to the core of the problem or to make decisions more easily?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  • Bonet, D. (2001). The business of listening a practical guide to effective listening . Crisp Learning.
  • Gearhart, C. C., Denham, J. P., & Bodie, G. D. (2014). Listening as a goal-directed activity . Western Journal of Communication, 78(5), 668-684.
  • Thompson, K., Leintz, P., Nevers, B., & Witkowski, S. (2010). The integrative listening model: An approach to teaching and learning listening . Listening and human communication in the 21st century, 266-287.

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Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe). Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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How to Improve Your Empathic Listening Skills: 7 Techniques

Empathic Listening

Social and personal complexities have amplified anxiety and depression, pushing people to their limits.

How can we help a hurting person? Beyond basic survival, people need a sense of belonging and to feel safe, valued, and respected.

There is good news. Each of us can offer relief to a hurting person.

Author Josephine Billings stated:

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

Leal, 2017, p. 32

Empathic listening allows us to step inside the speaker’s story to feel their emotions. It provides a safe place to work through complicated emotions.

What does the empathic listener get from their effort? Besides helping someone, you may be creating a legacy of compassion.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free . These science-based tools will help you and those you work with build better social skills and better connect with others.

This Article Contains:

What is empathic listening 2 examples, the 4 stages of empathic listening, empathic listening vs active listening, carl rogers’s take on empathic listening, how to improve your empathic listening skills, 7 techniques and tips for counselors, 19 examples of questions to ask your clients, best exercises, activities, and games, most fascinating books on the topic, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Stephen R. Covey (2020, p. 277), author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , summarizes the heart of empathic listening: “Seek first to understand.” Covey calls this a deep paradigm shift, as most people force their own perspective before attempting to listen.

Covey believes empathic listening begins with the type of character trait that inspires the speaker to open up and trust the listener. Humility , for instance, is a character trait that instills trust. Covey talks about building an emotional bank account with the person before they’re willing to trust. The same concept in restorative justice is known as social capital .

Covey believes we typically listen at one of four levels:

  • Ignoring the other person
  • Pretending to listen
  • Selective listening
  • Attentive listening

Covey states there’s a fifth level of listening:

Empathic listening

Empathic listening seeks to get inside the other person’s perspective and see the world the way they do. This skill requires the listener to use their eyes, ears, and heart to listen.

Parenting as an example

Being a parent can be an optimal opportunity for empathic listening.

Child: “I don’t like soccer anymore. The coach confuses me and the team sucks.”

The parent might typically refute the child’s assertion. But a different response might be:

Parent: “Sounds like you’re frustrated with your soccer team.”

Coworkers as an example

The workplace is also filled with opportunities for empathic listening. Imagine your coworker comes into your office with a complaint.

Coworker: “Hal (supervisor) is an idiot. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he gives me horrible assignments.”

Listener: “Sounds like you’re irritated with Hal and work right now.”

In both instances, the listener doesn’t negate or judge the speaker. They let the speaker know they heard what was said and captured the emotions.

Stages of empathic listening

According to Covey (2020), there are four stages of empathic listening, outlined below:

Stage 1: Mimicking content

This is the least effective stage of listening taught in active or reflective listening courses.

Stage 2: Rephrasing the content

This is somewhat more effective but remains limited to the verbal portion of communication.

Stage 3: Reflecting feelings

This stage includes not only what was said, but how the speaker feels about it.

Stage 4: Rephrasing content and reflecting feelings

This stage incorporates both the second and third stages of the golden nugget of communication. Covey describes this stage as giving the speaker psychological air .

Rephrasing content and reflecting feelings draws the speaker closer to the listener, reassuring them they are in a safe space. The barrier between the parties is removed for what Covey describes as soul-to-soul flow , which includes trust and vulnerability.

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In the field of communication, there are various types of listening. Some require more skill and patience than others.

Active listening

Active listening is identified as a way of listening instead of a type of listening. This listening method focuses entirely on what the other person is saying. The listener then confirms the content of what was heard and the feelings the speaker projects about the message (Hybels & Weaver, 2015).

Some characteristics of active listeners include good eye contact, undivided attention, and patience. The active listener’s demeanor helps the speaker feel respected (Hybels & Weaver, 2015).

This type of listening includes the mechanics of active listening and takes the listener a step further. The empathic listener begins with the intent to immerse themselves fully in the other person and what they are experiencing.

Applying empathic listening techniques includes emptying ourselves of the need to be right and our individual autobiography, as our personal narratives may interfere with the speaker’s story (Covey, 2020).

This video by Roma Sharma provides examples of autobiographical listening and empathic listening and how to prepare to be a deep listener.

Another way to think about empathic listening is to project yourself into the other person’s life, which includes suspending your own ego and judgment (Hybels & Weaver, 2015). I have found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of being a mediator. It requires centering myself with reminders that my job is to listen and to be fully present.

In addition to supporting the speaker, the empathic listener creates intimacy by listening, identifying feelings, and allowing the speaker to find solutions. Empathic listeners know how important it is for speakers to both own and solve their own issues (Hybels & Weaver, 2015).

It’s Not About the Nail  is a comical video about a speaker who cannot see her own issue. Although the listener can clearly see the problem, he learns that the conversation is about listening and validating the speaker, not fixing the issue.

Improve empathic listening

He is careful to make it clear from the outset that being empathetic is a “complex, demanding, and strong—yet also subtle and gentle—way of being” (Rogers, 1980, p. 143).

He describes it as a multi-faceted process rather than a state where the listener is “entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it” (Rogers, 1980, p. 142). It involves a moment-to-moment sensitivity of the speaker’s feelings and temporarily living within the life of the other without judgment.

Another aspect includes being aware of unconscious feelings the speaker may have but taking care not to divulge something that may be below the speaker’s conscious level, posing a threat to them.

In addition, the listener is sensing the person’s world through fresh eyes, particularly threatening aspects, and checking in with the person about what is being sensed.

The empathic listener becomes “a confident companion to the person in his or her inner world” (Rogers, 1980, p. 142). In order to do so, the listener has put aside subjective views and values to enter into their world without the prejudices that accompany them, in essence, laying yourself aside for the time being.

Rogers believed this way of being is not for everyone. The empathic person must know themselves well and be solidly grounded enough to avoid getting lost in the other person’s strange or bizarre world.

It can be complicated to cease embedded behaviors, such as judging and evaluating. One idea is to replace judgment with curiosity. Curiosity changes perspectives, allowing us to approach the situation from a different vantage point.

Becky Harling (2017) shares her listening recommendations, including remembering the story the speaker has told and demonstrating that you value what they’ve shared. She points out that people struggle with insecurities, and advice, as opposed to empathic listening, often adds to their insecurities. She goes on to suggest the listener might verbally acknowledge their courage for sharing their challenge.

According to Michael Sorensen, author of I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships , “The truly good listeners of the world do more than just listen. They listen, seek to understand, and then validate. That third point is the secret sauce—the magic ingredient” (Sorensen, 2017, p. 18).

Validating the emotions of the speaker demands the listener’s full attention and observation. The listener must listen to the words and observe the body language.

Sorensen also suggests the listener mirror the speaker’s excitement when responding, offer micro-validations such as “really” and “that makes sense” to show they’re listening, and stop judging our own emotions.

Techniques for counselors

This loss of control can be scary and unpredictable. Perhaps this is why it’s so difficult to prepare for empathic listening.

Bento Leal (2017), author of 4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work – Anywhere! , provides the foundation and steps for empathic listening.

Included in his 12-day communication challenge to better communication are several steps that build upon one another for excellent communication skills. Each day ends with a reflection.

Leal’s approach to empathic listening is unique in that he meticulously outlines the internal perspective needed to prepare for the interaction.

Empathic awareness skills

  • Recognize the inherent dignity and value in myself as well as the speaker.
  • Instill a personal desire to want to listen to others.
  • Think of positive qualities of the other person.

Empathic listening skills

  • Transform my listening skills and quiet my mind.
  • I will listen through the words, fully and openly.
  • I vow not to interrupt people.
  • Say back to the speaker what they said to me, capturing the emotion.

Leal also offers tips for empathic speaking, including organizing and clarifying thoughts prior to speaking, choosing words wisely, and expressing words with respect. Finally, he suggests speaking carefully and clearly.

Before asking your client or the speaker questions, it is wise to be sensitive to their disposition and have a deep awareness of the context. Not all questions are appropriate in every situation.

Questions can help the listener focus and convey their narrative. The following examples can help the listener open up.

  • “You seem upset. Do you want to talk?”
  • “Tell me what happened.”

The listener can clarify what they heard. Ideas include:

  • “You sound frustrated.” (‘Frustrated’ can be replaced with any emotion, such as angry, sad, or fearful.)
  • “How do you feel about this?”
  • “How did you react?”
  • “When did that happen?”
  • “How did you feel when they said that?”
  • “What do you think they meant by that?”
  • “In what ways does this bother you the most?”
  • “What do you do when that happens?”
  • “Do you know why they did that?”
  • “Have you experienced a similar situation in the past?”
  • “How did you handle it?”
  • “What was it that caused you to feel that way?”
  • “Do you know what they want from you?”

Some ideas to let the listener know you are there for them, include:

  • “What can I do for you?”
  • “That sounds really hard.”
  • “How can I best support you?”
  • “What do you need right now?”

Empathic listening exercises

The steps begin with putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and fact checking past conversations.

Step three advises the listener to give their full attention and consider if clarification is needed. The last two steps include clarifying what they’ve said and possibly having the speaker clarify what they heard you say.

Creating an Empathy Picture can be used as an exercise or game and is appropriate for any age group. This activity incorporates imagination and creativity by having participants cut out pictures from magazines or other sources and paste them onto a large sheet of paper.

Once the poster boards are ready, group members are asked to imagine who the people are and what is going on in their life, using prompts such as:

  • What decision does this person need to make today?
  • What are others telling them to do?

The 500 Years Ago worksheet is a role-play exercise that encourages the speaker to speak on the listener’s level. The role of the listener is to imagine themselves as someone from 500 years in the past.

The speaker then describes to the listener a modern object such as a laptop or cell phone for which the listener from the Middle Ages would have no reference. This role-play uses imagination and empathy for the listener.

Improving your communication with empathic listening skills does not happen overnight. These books will guide you with practical applications.

1. I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships – Michael S. Sorenson

I Hear You

His position on the success of empathic listening relies heavily on validating emotions. He posits a four-step process, which includes validating and re-validating the emotion.

Another component posited by Sorensen in I Hear You is for the listener to mirror the speaker’s energy when responding. This includes emotions such as excitement and melancholy.

Sorensen reiterates something commonly known but often forgotten about emotions , which is that they’re neither good nor bad; they’re information about a situation.

Sorensen offers the reader unique tips on learning to empathize with people, such as imagining them as a child and ceasing to judge our own emotions.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. 4 Essential Skills to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work—Anywhere! – Bento C. Leal III

4 Essential Skills to Effective Communication

This book reads like a pocket guide for learning to communicate more effectively.

Leal begins by acknowledging the uniqueness of each human being and how we must first prepare ourselves for empathic listening through recognizing our own and others’ value.

Particularly useful is his realignment formula of Pause–Reflect–Adjust–Act for various situations, such as a wandering mind. Another great reminder is that intentions precede actions; preparation prior to the conversation sets the stage for success.

In addition to tips on preparing to listen, Leal also includes tips for empathic speaking, expressing yourself when you’re upset, and encouraging others in your life through Applaud, Admire, Appreciate .

Mindful Listening is a listening exercise aimed at children to achieve a couple of objectives. It helps them slow down, pay attention and become more aware.

The Create a Care Package worksheet provides experiential insight into people’s lives by challenging them to consider which objects, possessions, and people are integral in the lives of others.

Partners are asked to imagine having to leave behind all but a few items from your current life. Partners then take turns identifying the items they would take to their new life and why.

The Trading Places worksheet invites clients to view things from a variety of perspectives. This worksheet can be particularly useful for clients struggling to see eye to eye with another person, keeping them stuck in conflict.

It includes ten steps to help develop empathy , beginning with grounding yourself in the present moment. Subsequently, clients are asked to walk through feelings involved in difficult interactions while alternating between past and present.

In addition, the worksheet encourages the client to consider and record feelings the other person might be experiencing through their interactions.

Empathic listening is the embodiment of connection and a foundation for healing hurting people.

According to Elizabeth Segal, social empathy (insight into the plights and realities of others’ lives) is waning (Kilty, Hossfeld, Kelly, & Waity, 2018). If it continues to decrease, social bonds will be weakened, rendering compassion at risk.

Empathy gives compassion wings.

After my dad passed away in 2020, people told us what a great listener he was. He didn’t attempt to control the conversation. He didn’t judge or try to fix issues. He was a strong and steady presence for others.

Maya Angelou said:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Gallo, 2014

Such an indelible legacy.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free .

  • Covey, S. R. (2020). The 7 habits of highly effective people . Simon & Schuster.
  • Cuddy, A. (2015). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges . Little, Brown and Company.
  • Gallo, C. (2014). The Maya Angelou quote that will radically improve your business . Forbes.com. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2014/05/31/the-maya-angelou-quote-that-will-radically-improve-your-business/?sh=61ea5945118b
  • Harling, B. (2017). How to listen so people will talk . Bethany House.
  • Kilty, K. M., Hossfeld, L., Kelly, E. B., & Waity, J. (2018). Poverty and class inequality. In A. J. Trevino (Ed.), Investigating social problems (2nd ed.). Sage.
  • Hybels, S., & Weaver, R. L. (2015). Communicating effectively (11th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Leal, B. C., III (2017). 4 Essential keys to effective communication in love, life, work—anywhere!  Author.
  • Rogers, C. (1980). A way of being . Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Sorensen, M. S. (2017). I hear you: The surprisingly simple skill behind extraordinary relationships . Autumn Creek Press.

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in problem solving the listener must first

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in problem solving the listener must first

Active Listening is a Key Skill When Problem Solving

  • by Monique Daigneault

in problem solving the listener must first

Problem-solving is most likely part of your daily life, especially at work. 

Many of my clients, who are top leaders, receive 360 feedback stating that they need to solve problems more collaboratively instead of in a silo.  Through the coaching process we discover that these leaders are operating in a silo for several reasons.  They feel an enormous amount of pressure to always have all the answers.  According to them, their reputation will suffer if they show even the slightest doubt or lack of knowledge.  Another reason for failing to collaborate is because they don’t know how to use active listening skills.  So, they automatically default to finding solutions on their own or forcing their opinion on to others, which bypasses the collaborative process. 

One of my clients trained herself to quickly come up with solutions whenever she was presented with problems.  Then she simply let her team know what solution they needed to implement.  She left them completely out of the problem-solving process and claimed that it was in the interest of time.  While it’s true that in business time is of the essence, that is no excuse to bypass collaboration.  That’s not to say that there aren’t times when a leader must make an executive decision.  But, for the most part, your team should be empowered to assist with creating solutions.  My client was given feedback that she moved too fast and excluded her team from important discussions.  Not only that, but she also didn’t help the team understand the logic in any of her decisions.  They felt like they were simply “order-takers.”

Collaborative problem solving is difficult because it involves sorting through complex dynamics, various personalities, differing opinions, and sometimes conflict.  However, the entire process will have a much better outcome if you develop active listening skills.

Active listening requires that you suspend your own ideas and judgement until you first hear from others. 

This is counterintuitive to the way most leaders operate.  However, contrary to popular practice, as a leader you are not expected to have all the answers.  But you are expected to motivate, empower, and engage others so they may have a voice.  Active listening does just that and it also positions you as a leader with empathy.

When problem-solving with others do you tend to jump in right away with your opinion?  Do you base your solution on a past problem that was similar?  Do you quickly weigh all the pros and cons in your head, voice a solution, and expect others to ‘keep up’ with your thought process?  As the group is brainstorming are you formulating your response before they even stop talking?  If you have these habits, then you are not practicing active listening.

Active listening involves the process of staying focused, eliminating distractions, suspending judgement, clarifying, and summarizing.  I’m not implying that these steps are easy, as a matter of fact, each step requires practice.  Much of this practice can take place during coaching sessions by preparing for real scenarios and then debriefing afterward.  When my clients use active listening, they can create more synergy, cohesiveness, and faster solutions with teams and individuals.  This relationship-building skill also helps leaders display more empathy, creativity, and open-mindedness toward others.  Plus, listening more and talking less takes the pressure off the leader to have all the solutions.  It also allows their coworkers and direct reports to develop important critical thinking skills.  

Problem-solving should never take place in a silo.  If you are a leader, step away from the traditional mindset that says you must provide all the solutions.  Instead, facilitate a process that involves active listening and watch your level of competence soar.  

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Story Elements

1st -  2nd  , elements of plot refresher, character analysis.


Analytical Listening

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25 questions

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Analytical listening is also called _____.

active listening

attentive listening

emphatic listening

creative listening

This stage focuses on generating meaning on what the listener just heard.

Receiving Stage

Evaluating Stage

Understanding Stage

Remembering Stage

This stage requires both the listener and speaker to meet in between regarding the points discussed.

This stage gives opportunity to the listener to give feedback on what they just heard.

Responding Stage

This stage refers to the process where the listener is hearing the message that is being delivered to them.

This stage is where it is up to the listener to integrate the information he/she just heard into memory.

In problem solving, the listener must first...

collect as much information they can

generate alternative solutions

analyze the problem

gather sources from different media

This refers to the writer's intent in writing

Author's Intention

Author's Purpose

Author's Goal

Author's Job

This shows the when and where of the story.


The setting can include...

cultural surrounding

all of the foregoing

This type of setting doesn't affect the story at all.

integral setting

random setting

backdrop setting

none of the foregoing

This type of setting is mostly used in children stories or fairy tales. (answer in lowercase)

A type of story where animals are the focal characters.

This is an element of the story that pushes the story forward.

This is a character in the story which represents characteristics that are opposite to the protagonist to highlight certain qualities of the protagonist.

This type of characterization describes a character that goes through character development as the story progresses.


This traces all the events of the story from start to finish.

This is when the story moves back in time. A

look back at the past within an otherwise

chronological story.

In medias res


The struggle between two different forces in the

In this type of conflict, a

character struggles with his or

her inner self.

Man vs. Man

Man vs. Self

Man vs. Society

Man vs. Nature

This type of conflict is usually used to portray an alternate reality both positive and negative of real life societies.

Man vs. Tradition

In this type of conflict, a character struggles against another character.

Man vs Self

Man vs Society

Man vs Nature

This type of story telling opens at the middle of the story.

deus ex machina

in medias res

He/She/They are often the cause of conflict in the story.


The time and place are important to the story as it will directly impact the plot.

background setting

initial setting

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Many of us forget that we all possess one of the most effective tools to aid someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

We hear a lot about active listening – listening and responding to another person to improve mutual understanding. For people in roles like a nurse or doctor, engaging and responding while listening is an ideal strategy. Checking information during a conversation helps ensure patients receive the correct treatments and medications.

But for situations when someone is experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis, there is another kind of listening that can be more effective: empathetic listening. For a person experiencing a mental health problem, having an empathetic listener can be calming and reassuring – even healing.

Empathy, unlike sympathy, does not mean we agree with the other person or see things from the same point of view. Instead, it requires taking a moment to step outside of our normal patterns of thinking and feeling to imagine what it feels like to be the person in front of us.

 “Most people experiencing distressing emotions and thoughts want an empathetic listener before being offered helpful options and resources.”

— Mental Health First Aid USA manual

The first way to diffuse a tense situation is to establish rapport with the person in distress. Listening quietly, without engaging in problem-solving, signals that you are on that person’s side. This simple gesture validates the other person’s experience.

Listening empathetically allows the listener to really hear and understand what is being said. It also makes it easier for the other person to feel they can talk freely without being judged.

Here are some ways to show empathy the next time you encounter someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis:

  • Focus on conveying empathy and not on changing the person or their perspective.
  • Slow down. Distress often increases the speed of our speech and gestures. Give the person in front of you enough time to express themselves.
  • Use a relaxed body posture. Stay close enough to the person to show you care, but do not touch the person without asking first.

Our distress increases when we feel isolated. By showing empathy, you can help the person in front of you calm down.

Remember, the person in front of you shares your human condition – with all its needs, struggles and desires. Although you might fear making someone uncomfortable, remember that many people experiencing mental health symptoms want someone to notice them and offer support.

To learn more about how to help those around you who live with mental illness or a substance use disorder, find a Mental Health First Aid course near you.

Get the latest MHFA blogs, news and updates delivered directly to your inbox so you never miss a post.

Share and help spread the word.

Related stories, girltrek to bring mental health first aid to college campuses nationwide, over $50 million available to support mental health first aid: apply today, how mental health first aid can help home-bound seniors, how to help someone who is having a panic attack, how to help someone who is suicidal.


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