wikiHow to Actively Listen

Studies show that many people absorb less than half of what they hear when they are being spoken to. This communication skills deficit may be caused by the common characteristics of passive listening, such as inattention, distraction and/or the process of forming a response. It is possible to improve on the amount of information you retain during verbal interaction by practicing a form of self-awareness called active listening. Follow these steps for how to actively listen.


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    Prepare mentally. This requires that you clear your mind and dedicate your focus to taking in as much as you can of what is being said to you. Prepare for active listening in the following ways:
    • Tell yourself that you are going to pay attention, and then make the conscious effort to focus solely on the speaker and block out any background noise or other distractions.
    • Get rid of any distractions that may stand in your way of paying full attention. This means closing off any other conversations you are having and stopping any activities you are doing.
    • Clear your mind of any preconceived ideas or emotions pertaining to what you think the speaker might say. It is important to approach active listening with an open mind, and to wait to form opinions until you have heard what the speaker has to say.
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    Pay attention. Active listening involves focusing not only on verbal communication skills, but also on body language cues, in order to get a thorough understanding of the speaker's message. To be attentive, employ the following techniques:
    • Maintain a physical stance that promotes successful communication. Face and lean towards the person speaking to you. Open your posture, as opposed to crossing your arms.
    • Make eye contact with the speaker.
    • Take note of the speaker's body language. This will give you clues into the meaning, feeling and purpose behind what the speaker is saying.
    • Focus on the message behind the words, rather than the words themselves. Your goal is to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate to you, regardless of how effective the speaker is at articulating the message. Discard judgment and pay close attention to the verbal and physical clues you are receiving.
    • Consider both what the speaker is thinking and what the speaker is feeling.
    • Practice empathy. Empathy is the act of feeling what the speaker is feeling. Attempt to identify with the speaker, so that you fully understand the depth of what is being said to you. You don't have to agree, but you should be able to recognize the speaker's full intention.
    • Avoid formulating a response while you are listening. Wait until the speaker is finished before you devote your mental energy to what you want to say. If the speaker signals to you for an acknowledgement of your understanding during the speech, it is okay to respond with a simple comment or question to show that you are paying attention.
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    Allow the speaker to communicate without any interruption, until the speaker concludes.
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    Provide feedback. Do so with honesty, and with respect for the speaker. Focus on the speaker's message and avoid adding new ideas.
    • Acknowledge to the speaker that you are paying attention. Nod your head, smile and give other physical encouragements when it is appropriate. Additionally, provide verbal cues of encouragement to the speaker, such as, "go on" and "I see."
    • When the speaker concludes, respond with your interpretation of what was said. It is a good idea to take a moment of silent consideration as you formulate your response. Your response should be a concise paraphrase, or summation, of what the speaker said, as you understood it. Phrases like, "this is what I heard" and "I think this is what you meant" are commonly used when paraphrasing.
    • Allow the speaker to further clarify if you misjudged the meaning of the communication.
    • Ask questions if you feel that you need more information. Actively listen as the speaker provides explanation.
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    Repeat the feedback process until you and the speaker are satisfied that the message was amply conveyed.


  • You may develop your mental focus when practicing active listening by repeating your speaker's exact words in your head as they are spoken to you.

Article Info

Categories: Speaking and Listening Skills