How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)Listening is the key to great relationships and good understanding. It’s important in today’s society, with all of our high-tech communication capabilities, to tune in and really listen to one another whenever possible. Effective listening is the secret that saves jobs, marriages and families from breakups and breakdowns.

Here are seven steps to effective listening:

1. Look the Speaker in the Eyes

This shows that you’re being attentive and actually care about what they are saying. By no means should you engage in other activities like texting, reading, writing or gazing at the television. Stay focused on the conversation at hand and nod accordingly to let the person know you’re getting what they’re saying.

2. Avoid Interrupting and Wait to Interject at the Right Time

Let the speaker finish their point. Wait for a pause to interject or ask for more clarity. A big mistake would be to jump in with an interruption, ask a question or make a comment before the speaker is done speaking. This can be very frustrating and can cause the speaker to lose sight of what they were trying to say. Interruptions can create a wall between the speaker and listener, making it hard to communicate successfully.

3. Be Prepared to Listen

Relax your mind and body so that you can receive information objectively. Clear your mind of distracting thoughts by breathing in deeply. (Inhale and exhale at least three times.) Turn toward the speaker and sit up straight to show that you’re present and attentive. Your physical engagement also sends a message to your mind to focus on the speaker.

4. Learn to Keep Your Mind from Wandering

A untrained mind can easily be distracted by noises, random objects, background chatter or your even own thoughts. You may find yourself thinking of what you should be getting done in that moment. However, when you’re not focused on the conversation, it is evident to the other person.

Journaling is the most effective way to train your mind to listen. Get quiet every day for at least 20-30 minutes and tune out all noise and distractions. Then ask yourself a question you want answered about your life or career. Sit, listen and record your response in a journal. Soon you’ll learn how to effectively listen to both your inner thoughts and to others.

5. Be Open-Minded

Always remember the three Js to being open-minded:

1. No Judging: Listen without being critical of the other person. Judging the matter before you hear it all out can cause you to respond inappropriately.

2. No Justifying: Avoid the need to justify your own thoughts or beliefs on a matter before listening to a person entirely. If you don’t allow a person to finish what they’re trying to say, you’ll never really get to know how they feel or think about the situation.

3. No Jumping In: Be patient and try not to figure out what you think the speaker is trying to say by finishing their sentences or blurting out your thoughts. The best way to learn exactly what they’re saying is by remaining quiet and listening closely. Concentrate on what they’re saying (even if it annoys you). Effective listening should be free of interruptions and pre-supposed solutions.

6. Practice the Art of Mirroring

A good listener knows how to mirror the same energy or emotions as the speaker. Show that you’re engaged by responding with matching expressions. Reflect their feelings by responding with a smile when they smile and nod when they’re looking for clues that you’re getting what they’re saying to you. For big news, show an appropriately excited expression to convey that you’re feeling what they are feeling. This assure them that you’re really listening and engaging.

7. Give Positive Non-Verbal Feedback

Your facial expression is a clear indicator of your thoughts and mood. Be conscious of your body language. Rolling eyes, slumping shoulders, excessive fidgeting or sternness of face all show that you’re detached from the conversation. Look at the person talking, point your body in their direction, smile and listen closely.

For a quick summary of these steps, you can consult the infographic below:

Practice listening effective every day for one week. Record your thoughts and outcomes in a journal so you can chart your progress and feedback.

This article was contributed by Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises.

Hear What People Are Really Saying

Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others.

  • We listen to obtain information.
  • We listen to understand.
  • We listen for enjoyment.
  • We listen to learn.

Given all the listening that we do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact, most of us are not, and research suggests that we only remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear, as described by Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers, or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.

Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50 percent, but what if they’re not?

Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you can improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success!

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness . Understanding your own personal style of communicating will go a long way toward helping you to create good and lasting impressions with others.

About Active Listening

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated.

In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying.

If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you to stay focused.

To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what they’re saying.

To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it’s something you want to avoid.

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How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

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How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

Despite what you might have heard in professional circles, money does not make the world go ‘round. What does make a difference, both in and out of the office, is good communication. It’s this key component that determines your strength and success in business. And what really makes your communication insanely effective is active listening.

What is active listening?

Active listening basically means that, when you try to communicate, you stop trying to multitask. You focus on what the other person says, rather than formulating what you’re going to say and impatiently waiting until they’re done to respond. Your main goal is to pay attention, read between the lines and ensure that you really understand what the other person has told you. It’s only when you have a grasp of the shared information that you can then formulate an appropriate answer and do something. So in this sense, active listening is a great example of a strategy that incorporates John Boyd’s famous OODA loop for decision-making, wherein you Observe, Orient, Decide and then Act.

Listening to the words someone else says to you is only one part of active listening. You also have to pay attention to elements like non-verbal cues (e.g., facial expressions, posture). Those cues tell you an enormous amount about what someone really feels, thinks or needs, and so they help you get a better sense of the big picture and come up with a more thoughtful, rational answer.

Asking questions is also an essential part of active listening. It shows your conversation partner that you are interested in what they have to say and actually want the conversation to keep going. It also offers a way for you to get clarification or access details.

If both people who are communicating do active listening properly, then it’s much easier to achieve their meaning. But in normal conversation, you’ll constantly flow between the listener and speaker roles. And it goes both ways in that when you are the speaker, you must take ownership of your communication and find another way to get your point across if your active listener doesn’t understand.

Why is active listening so important for leaders?

No matter your industry or company mission, as a leader, everything you do ultimately relies on the interpersonal relationships you form with your team, stakeholders, customers and others. Without active listening, these relationships are much harder to develop, because you might not understand the problems at hand or be able to acknowledge them in a positive, reassuring way. Lack of understanding also translates to difficulty digging down into an issue and cooperatively brainstorming for and developing innovative solutions. All of these things can make others question whether you’re really qualified to be at the top and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to problems like insubordination, low morale, poor productivity and atrocious retention rates. In the end, this slashes your ability to compete and keep the doors of your company open.

Conversely, good active listening produces informed, willing people who know what to do and why they’re doing it. They can work together harmoniously for common goals and move your company in the direction you want it to go, all while feeling more respected, included and valuable. High productivity is thus a surefire sign that good active listening is happening with your team.

Balancing professionalism and fun

Active listening clearly is serious business, as it can have such a dramatic influence on the results you get in your office. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun as you open your ears. It’s okay to smile, tell the occasional disarming joke or anecdote and be yourself. The key is simply to keep everything relevant and avoid dipping into silliness. With the right balance of fun and professionalism, you can create a relaxed yet intentional atmosphere where people feel safe enough to share concerns, get creative and lean on each other according to their own personalities and skills. This is what many leaders might consider the holy grail of contemporary office culture, inviting real diversity, inclusion and support at all levels.

Genuine interest makes active listening easy

Active listening is just like any other skill in that it takes practice to get it right. Strategies like finding a distraction-free area for your conversation, jotting down a note or two and making good eye contact can all help you stay present in the moment and take in the speaker’s information better.

But perhaps the biggest tip for good active listening is simply trying to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying. This can involve personal intrigue about the topic. But because everyone is different, and because most of us will likely find certain business subjects like expense reports a little dull, interest can also come from basic respect of the other person’s value as a human being and contributor. The more genuinely interested you are, and the more you connect to the speaker’s larger purpose, the less you have to “fake it,” and the more naturally you can pay attention and analyze their information properly.

Communication is an integral part of everything we do — at work and beyond. And to successfully communicate, we must actively listen. As a leader, it makes the difference between success and failure, which is why practicing active listening and honing it until it’s second nature is so important. Active listening isn’t just a vital tool in a leader’s toolbox — it’s a vital tool for anyone! And if you find yourself actively listening and encouraging your employees to do the same, you’ll soon find work operations from end to end progressing more smoothly than they ever have before.

A community helping CIOs and IT leaders solve problems

Active listening, an essential leadership skill, goes hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence. Here’s how to really hear what others are saying

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

When you’re a CIO, there’s no shortage of folks knocking on your door waiting to be heard – direct reports, staff members, C-level peers, business unit leaders, suppliers and strategic parters, your boss, or even board members. Each person seeks an audience for their problem, pitch, question, critique, or request. In many cases, these discussions may be emotionally charged. And many of them could push the limits of anyone’s patience.

That’s why one of the most important skills a CIO can hone is listening – and that means not simply hearing someone out and delivering a reflexive answer or response, but purposely considering what that person is saying.

Great listeners make better leaders because listening makes others feel recognized and appreciated and builds trust. That, in turn, can lead to benefits like increased alignment with company goals, better performance and productivity, and greater innovation.

“Active listening is one of the most valuable skills any leader can have,” says Don Rheem, author of Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures and CEO of E3 Solutions, a provider of employee workplace metrics and manager training. “Active listening validates the speaker simply because you are present with them in the moment. It creates a felt sense of safety when the speaker is allowed to share the context and facts as they see them without fear of judgement, derision, or being ignored. Active listening also empowers the speaker as their voice is heard and understood.”

[ Do you communicate effectively? See 12 bad communication habits to break in IT. ]

CIOs can build their active listening prowess like any other leadership skill: by committing to and practicing a few keys skills in their day-to-day interactions with everyone from subordinates to the chairman of the board. Consider these five must-do’s:

1. Create the right physical environment

When someone wants to discuss an issue or idea, don’t do it in the cafeteria at lunchtime or in a busy hallway. “Find a quiet place that minimizes distractions,” advises Rheem. “Turn cell phones to silent, laptops to sleep mode, and try to ensure there will be no interruptions during your conversation.”

2. Prepare mentally

Don’t go into the conversation cold – but don’t bring too much baggage along either. “Review what facts you already know about the conversation topic and leave assumptions behind,” Rheem says. “Keep in mind you likely do not know everything about the subject, and be open when the speaker shares information. Unconscious bias is hard to detect in ourselves, but it is always there.”

3. Receive the message in full

As much as possible, let the other person talk without interruption at their own pace. This shows them that you are interested in and care about what they are sharing. “Take note of [the speaker’s] body language along with what is actually being said,” says Rheem. “Does it align with their message? Does it clash?” Also, attempt to identify any internal “filters” you may have that could interfere with or skew your interpretation of the message being delivered.

4. Review and round out the message

Measure the credibility of what you are hearing by identifying any assumptions made and deciphering opinion versus fact. A good way to approach this step is with curiosity, says Rheem. Ask the speaker to add more context or detail, using language such as, “Tell me more about what happened after you discovered the mistake” or “I think I heard you say X; is that correct?”

5. Thoughtfully respond to the speaker

Consider what type of response is most appropriate given the information you have received. The response does not necessarily need to be a clear decision or course of action. It might be any of these:

  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Deciding between multiple options
  • Offering practical or emotional support
  • Giving guidance (only if explicitly requested)
  • Providing a straightforward, supportive answer

When responding, use language that validates (I see your point.) and that shows that you understand (That makes sense to me.) or empathize (I would be angry, too, if that happened to me.).

“A foundational element of active listening is to demonstrate that you hear and understand their message at a deeper level than a simple nod of the head,” says Rheem. “It is okay to acknowledge someone’s view and feelings without agreeing with them. Understand first, resolve second.”

[ You’re on your way to better EQ. Read also: 10 things leaders with emotional intelligence never do. ]

For all responses, be respectful, positive, and honest. Never judge, demean, or criticize. If you feel ill-equipped to manage the situation, consider including another trusted party or recommend another individual for the employee to speak with who may be better suited to help.

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Social skills are the behaviors people use when communicating or interacting with one another.

  • Communication with others includes not only the content of a conversation, but the way in which it is communicated.
  • Problems with social skills can include difficulty with appropriate eye contact, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
  • Problems with social skills can contribute to difficulty engaging in the community resulting in a poorer quality of life.
  • Social skills training can benefit individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders by providing opportunities to practice appropriate social skills in support of their recovery and wellbeing.

The Steps of Social Skills Training

An emerging evidence-informed intervention, Enhanced Illness Management and Recovery (E-IMR) helps practitioners integrate care for mental and substance use disorders. Innovative and effective, this new care model combines two proven practices: Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) and Illness Management and Recovery (IMR).

Step 1: Rationale

Provide reasons why it is important for your client to learn the skill.

Step 2: Steps

Break the skill down into manageable steps.

Step 3: Demonstration

Modeling the skill to your client.

Step 4: Role Play

Encourage your client to participate in a role-play using the skill. In groups, clients can role-play with each other.

Step 5: Feedback

Talk with your client about how it went. Be sure to include praise and suggestions for improvement.

Step 6: Practice

Encourage your client to practice the skill outside of the session in real-life situations.

Sample Session Skill: Listening to Others

The following is an example using the 6 steps of social skills training. In this case, an individual seeks to improve her relationship with her mother and the skill she and her counselor have chosen to work on is listening. It may benefit you take a moment to imagine what this might look like in a session with a client.

Step 1

“How might it be helpful for you to improve your listening skills?” or “It may help your relationship with your mother if you are better able to listen to her concerns.”

Step 2

“Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath or two to begin.” And/or “active listening includes making eye contact, not interrupting, and repeating back what you hear.” and/or “How would you know if someone is listening to you?”

Step 3

“Let me show you how I listen to others. Why don’t you let me know how I follow the steps of active listening.” And/or “Notice how I follow the steps and reflect back to you what I hear you saying, without interrupting.”

Step 4

“Now let’s think about how you might use active listening with your mom. You can practice active listening steps with me.” Or “We can try this together. First, you tell me what happened to you last week, and I will listen, then we can switch.”

Step 5

“What went well with that practice?” and “Is there anything you (or I) could have done better?”

Step 6

“How can you use this in the next week or with your mom?” and “Who can you ask to practice with you over the weekend?”

The Center for Practice Transformation is sponsored by funds from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Adult Mental Health Division and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division.

Some Suggested Social Skills Topics

  • Expressing positive feelings
  • Expressing unpleasant feelings
  • Making and refusing requests
  • Making and responding to complaints
  • Asking for help or information
  • Responding to unwanted advice
  • Starting a conversation
  • Drug or alcohol refusal
  • Disagreeing with someone
  • Apologizing to someone
  • Ending a conversation
  • Giving complements
  • Listening to others


Bellack, A. S., Mueser, K. T., Gingerich, S., & Agresta, J. (2004). Social skills training for schizophrenia: A step-by-step guide. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Social skills. Search results retrieved on September 22, 2015, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices,

Suggested Citation

Freedland, T., Meyer-Kalos, P. (2015). Social skills training: The steps of social skills training. Clinical Tip No. 1 (October, 2015): Center for Practice Transformation, University of Minnesota.

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)Developing active listening skills is essential to improving your communication skills. How often do you find yourself zoning out or thinking about what to say next during a conversation, instead of listening? If you are anything like me, then the answer is probably everyday, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

This is a normal human behavior, as we have active minds. It’s also the challenge that keeps us from practicing great listening skills. Active listening skills are the foundations for effective communication. The challenge is practicing active listening skills in every important conversation.

Well, let’s start with the two key goals of active listening:

  • Make sure you understand the content, nuance, and intentions of what the other person is saying.
  • Make sure the other person perceives that you are listening to him or her.

Do you agree with these goals? If so, then active listening is more than just using our ears — we have to be present, we have to process what we heard to make sure we understood it, and we have to let the other person know that we heard them. Here are 4 tips on practicing and improving your active listening skills — today!

Tip #1 Be Confident and Present in the Conversation Often times, we don’t listen well, not because we don’t want to, but because we are too busy trying to figure out what to say next, and we’re worrying about having something valuable to say. This is due to lack of confidence in ourselves, and a failure to be present with the speaker. When we worry about what to say next, we naturally won’t hear everything the other person is saying, and we’ll fill in the blanks with our own assumptions. This often happens in job interviews — we are so nervous about how to say why we are qualified that we don’t listen, and therefore don’t answer the question that was asked into interview. Obviously, this is counter-productive.

Practice: Do not think about what to say next while you are listening. Think about what you want to say next after the other person has finished speaking. Brief silence is okay in a conversation. You can also say “that’s a great question” to buy time. Also, don’t interrupt the person while they are speaking — that is a sure sign that you are not listening well.

Tip #2: Paraphrase What You Heard Just because we are listening, doesn’t mean we can assume that we heard the other person correctly. This is where paraphrasing is important. Paraphrasing is repeating back in our own words (not verbatim) what the person said. Repeating what they said in our own words will demonstrate that we heard them, processed what they said, and are taking some time to make sure we are on the same page before moving forward.

Practice: After the person has finished talking, you can say something like “If i understood you correctly, you are asking me x y z. Is that right?…Let me see if I understood this correctly — are you saying x y z?” Wait for the person to nod or correct you before answering the question, or making comments about the statement.

Tip #3: Ask Specific Questions to Clarify Another way to make sure we heard correctly and show we are listening is to ask specific questions when something we heard is unclear. This is not about saying ” I didn’t hear you. Can you repeat that?” No one wants to repeat everything they just said. Instead, we want to paraphrase what we did understand, and then ask a question about what we didn’t understand. It’s always better to ask questions than to assume that we know what they’re talking about.

Practice: Do not pretend to understand something when you don’t. You may think you are saving face or looking smart, but you won’t seem so smart in the long run. Instead, ask the person to clarify the part you didn’t get, after they are done speaking.

Tip #4: Show Non-Verbal Active Listening Lastly, listening is also about sending the right non-verbal cues. People react to non-verbal cues as much as words. If we are leaning back, looking at the ceiling, but listening intently, the person still may not feel heard. We have to align our non-verbal cues to show that we are actively listening.

Practice: Lean slightly forward or sit in a neutral position when listening. Look interested. Don’t have your hands folded in front of your chest (even if the person you are speaking with is) – Keep your hands by your side or on the table. Make eye contact appropriately as you listen. Nod your head at times as you listen.

The above concepts are easy to understand. The challenge is remembering to practice them in every important conversation. Make a little note for yourself with these 4 tips, and look at them as a reminder before going into a conversation. It’s worth the effort, though — it is only when you are really listening to the other person can you hope to be heard.

Your comments: What is the biggest challenge you face in improving your active listening skills? Any there any other active listening tips you want to add? Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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Active ageing – The discourse till now:

Active ageing as a concept is in vogue for some time. Organizations like WHO and European commission have published studies. The scope of this concept is very vast. For the time being, we shall understand the concept bit deeper.

Once you hit forty, you feel that the body is not the same. But, if we follow a disciplined approach to fitness, we can age actively. In this post, I would present some suggestions to practice active ageing, which is healthy and wise.

There are three main concepts involved. Diet, sleep and exercise. The food we eat should be preferably organic, with minimal chemical load in it. I know that it is nearly impossible to know the source of food and what all has gone in it.

Being vegetarian after 40 would keep your body very light and supple. The next part is good sleep. The body repairs itself during night time and a good sleep of 6 to 7 hours is essential for a fresh day. It is preferred that you use a hard bed, instead of a cushy bed which hurts your back. I avoid pillows, you can use soft pillows.

Exercise or physical activity is an integral part of active ageing. The degree of exercise can start with simple walking of 40 minutes a day in the morning to becoming an IRON MAN/WOMAN, there is no end for fitness.

I would suggest a good mix of yoga and aerobic activity on alternate days, for 30 to 40 minutes daily. This would keep all the muscles of the body in action and keep the body internally fit.

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

I read somewhere that age is just a number. As long as one is physically active and contributes to self,family and the country, you are young. This is my way of seeing life. I urge you to stay fit, eat right and rest well.

You can share your experiences here on the comments tab. I shall be glad to answer your queries in the comments section.

Why active listening is important, and how to do it.

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” —M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

Active listening is a way of listening that involves full attention to what is being said for the primary purpose of understanding the speaker. It is an important skill set for many different circumstances, ranging from the therapist’s office to the business world. If we are not listening actively, we are likely to miss the real message.

In my experience as a clinician, the ability to use active listening is essential for the long-term happiness of most couples. Attachment Theory has helped us understand that the most basic emotional needs of human beings include the need to be heard and the need to feel important to our partners (Johnson, 2008). One of the most common complaints that I hear during couples counseling sessions is one partner saying to the other: “You never listen to me!”

Social science research also evidences the crucial importance of active listening. Psychologist Willard Harley identified the 10 most common emotional needs of individuals in partner relationships (Harley, 2001). Among these top 10 was the need for “intimate conversation.” He described this need as being met by having discussions to inform or ask questions, discussing topics of mutual interest, and the willingness to listen to each other. More to the point, intimate conversation required giving and receiving undivided attention.

How to be an active listener

1. Listen without making judgments or taking a position on an issue. Gain an understanding of the situation from the other’s point of view.

2. Allow the speaker to finish thoughts without interruption. This usually includes brief periods of silence, such as a few seconds. It may take some practice before being able to know how long to wait before making some type of response. If unsure, it is always better to wait too long rather than speak too soon and interrupt the speaker’s thoughts.

3. Show that your attention is focused. Make eye contact, lean in towards the speaker when your interest peaks, and share any humor with a smile or other natural response.

4. Repeat what you have heard to check for accuracy. Use the speaker’s exact words when in doubt that you have heard accurately; more often, it is better to paraphrase what was said.

5. Ask questions as needed when you don’t understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the main point of their statement.

6. Give a short summary to indicate that you have heard and understood what was said.

7. Optional: As the final step, but not sooner, you may choose to share similar situations that you’ve experienced or your own views about the issue. You may even share a completely different opinion than that expressed, as long as that sharing is done after you have understood what was communicated to you.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What to avoid during active listening

1. Interrupting a sentence. Even if there is a long pause, one should first encourage the completion of the thought by the speaker.

2. Failing to make eye contact. Breaks from eye contact are normal and expected, but a total lack of eye contact communicates a lack of attention.

3. Rushing the speaker. This can be a challenge, particularly when the speaker goes into excessive or unrelated details to tell their story. Do your best to politely encourage them to move along with the point.

4. Getting distracted by other thoughts, or events nearby, and losing focus. Daydreaming while pretending to listen is probably only going to frustrate the speaker.

5. Over focus upon certain details, or asking about minor details that distract from the speaker’s point.

6. Changing the subject abruptly. This includes interjecting an account of “something similar that happened to me.”

7. Making jokes or sarcastic comments which distract from the points being made. Save the humor for later in the conversation.

8. Listening to decide what your reply should be. This is a common risk when the speaker is expressing a complaint and the listener begins to feel defensive. The natural tendency would be to shift focus to “how will I defend myself from this accusation?” or “how will I prove them wrong?” If you have actively listened, you may learn that you don’t need to defend yourself. Your partner may not be blaming you for anything. If blame has been thrown at you, you will have your chance to speak your own thoughts after you’ve listened to the complaint.

“There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As the great American poet Emerson suggested, you will have your turn to talk. There is really nothing to gain in a partner relationship by skipping the first step: active listening. Very often, the partner who needs to be heard is simply needing to vent some frustration and to know that you care enough to listen, even if there’s nothing you can do to “fix the problem.” Listening attentively may be the best thing you can do to create a more satisfying partnership.

We all need to be heard by those closest to us, regardless of whether we’re right or wrong, and rational or irrational. Whatever the circumstances, the process of listening has a high likelihood of transforming the relationship in a positive way.

Johnson, Susan (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, & Company.

Harley, Willard F. (2001). His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Fifteenth Anniversary Edition. Revell Publishing.

There’s more to being a good listener than hearing the words another person says. For effective communicators, listening is an active process, rather than a passive one. An active listener is a participant in a conversation—not just an audience.

The Active Listening worksheet breaks the communication skill into three steps: show you’re listening, encourage sharing, and strive to understand. The worksheet describes skills for each step, such as using verbal and nonverbal cues and asking open-ended questions.

Although none of the individual skills are complicated, they can be difficult to use consistently. After reviewing the skills in the handout, take turns role-playing as an active listener and speaker. Pay attention to the client’s use (or lack of use) of skills in future sessions, and provide feedback as needed.

This handout is valuable for couples, social skills training, and for anyone working toward improving their communication.

Download Free Worksheet

How to practice active listening (a step-by-step guide)

1. Bogdanoski, T. (2009). The importance and challenge of active listening in mediation. Australasian Dispute Resolution Journal, 20(4), 201-206.

2. Fassaert, T., van Dulmen, S., Schellevis, F., & Bensing, J. (2007). Active listening in medical consultations: Development of the Active Listening Observation Scale (ALOS-global). Patient Education and Counseling, 68(3), 258-264.

3. Weger Jr, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. The International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.

4. Weger Jr, H., Castle, G. R., & Emmett, M. C. (2010). Active listening in peer interviews: The influence of message paraphrasing on perceptions of listening skill. The International Journal of Listening, 24(1), 34-49.

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