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Active Listening Skills: Secrets You Need To Know

Most active listening skills are learned behaviors, not inherent qualities. Effective listening is a conscious activity because it requires controlled participation. Therefore, active listening is not a passive activity.

Our ability to listen affects how we interact with others, even more so than the words we speak.

Improving your communication skills is possible. Good communication skills are necessary as they improve social interactions and decrease awkwardness when socializing or networking

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about fully developing your ability to listen well. Plus, we’ve included scenarios that allow you to participate and help you better absorb the content.

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link at no extra cost to you. Please read the full disclosure for more information.

What Is Active Listening

Active listening is mindfully listening and fully engaging in a conversation. The listener participates verbally and nonverbally, providing responses that focus on the message and relay that the message was received.

Thus, the receiver of the message provides feedback to the speaker, conveying mutual understanding. The receiver’s full attention is on the message given and not on what the response will be.

Now, let’s look at some attentive listening scenarios to help you learn more about being a mindful listener.

Man and women talking, using active listening skills

Active Listening Scenarios

Engaged Listening – Scenario #1

You spot an acquaintance at a party and say hello. As you begin a conversation, you see her glance at her watch and look towards the door. However, she smiles, nods in agreement with what you are saying, and responds in turn.

As you relate your funny story, her expression is fixed and only changes at the story’s end.

What are four giveaways telling you that the listener did not give you her full attention?

Engaged Listening – Scenario #2

You run into your boss at your child’s baseball game. He excitedly tells you how his son hit a home run and won the game.

You lean in, smile, and nod, eyes lighting up at his excitement. Then, when he pauses, you repeat his last remark in wonder, offer a high-five, and complement his son’s athletic prowess.

What are five responses you performed correctly? By the end of this post, you should be able to answer correctly.

Consequently, the next time you see the acquaintance in scenario #1, you’ll likely duck out before she sees you. However, your boss, on the other hand, will seek you out at every opportunity.

Why Do You Want to Implement Active Listening Skills?

Active listening is a technique that enhances communication and increases meaningful interaction. Both parties are emotionally connected and able to engage in positive collaboration.

As the depth of your social interactions grows, you also build self-confidence. New relationships are built while older connections deepen and grow. Thoughts, feelings, and ideas are freely allowed to be expressed and discussed as both speaker and listener become more comfortable with each other.

Now, let’s learn the basic techniques of great listening skills.

Two women talking and displaying active listening skills

Good Listening Techniques

Engaged listening techniques require the listener to respond in a manner that lets the speaker know the message was received. This is a three-step process.

  • Comprehension – This is how the listener understands the message. Listen carefully for words spoken louder or accentuated, note topic changes, and mentally organize the message.
  • Retaining – This is the message the listener absorbs and remembers. Note that a speaker and listener can be involved in the same conversation yet take away entirely different meanings. However, the more attention you give the speaker, the more information you will retain. Retention also can improve if you associate the message as a visual or with a personal experience.
  • Responding – This is the feedback the listener gives the speaker using the techniques below:

A. Paraphrasing – Repeat the message’s main point back to the speaker using your own words.

B. Clarifying – Verbalize your response as a question to ensure understanding of the message.

C. Summarizing – Offer your view of the message to prove it was received.

See The Art of Conversation for additional information on improving communication skills.

Four Requirements of Effective Listening

Essentially, active listening has four golden rules. Breaking these rules can result in stilted or limited communication and loss of part of the message.

  1. Your full attention should always remain on the message.
  2. Refrain from thinking about your response.
  3. Avoid making any form of a judgment statement
  4. Observe and be aware of all nonverbal language taking place.
Older woman comforts younger woman

Nonverbal Listening Skill Techniques

Nonverbal body responses are the most powerful tools for improving communication. The mouth may lie, but the body never does.

Body movement, eye contact, and posture play important roles in active listening. The body should be open and turned toward the speaker, showing active engagement. Crossing one’s arms sends a message of disinterest or disagreement.

Attentive posture is upright but relaxed. Slouching signals that you’d rather be elsewhere.

Your tone of voice and vocal inflections should be natural, showing interest and friendliness when implementing active listening skills. Responses are delivered in a natural lilt and never a monotone. Gestures and facial expressions are focused and in tune with hearing the message.

In summary, nonverbal language or body language sends a stronger message because the body naturally responds to what the brain is thinking.

Barriers To Conscience Listening

Just as methods to improve communication and listening skills exist, barriers that shut down interaction exist, as well.

These communication barriers include:

Environmental Barriers – Distractions such as noise, crowding, and interruptions that interfere with hearing the message.

Psychological Barriers – A person’s mindset can prevent them from absorbing a message. For example, filtering the message to hear only what the listener wants to hear, focusing on how to respond, or attempting to correct the speaker.

Physiological Barriers – Examples include hunger, fatigue, illness, hearing loss, extreme anxiety, or depression.

Individuals often have preconceived notions and biases clouding their judgment. This occurs in political disagreements or differing religious views.

When a conversationalist attempts to convince a listener to agree with a particular viewpoint, he is using “self-centered conversation techniques.” Unfortunately, this practice infringes on the other party’s ability to communicate a freely given response.

Another communication barrier is when someone monopolizes a conversation. This self-centered strategy stifles conversation flow, causing listeners to become immune to the message.

Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication: Check it out here!

Overcoming Psychological Listening Barriers

When honing active listening skills, we must become aware of our psychological biases and habits that prevent effective listening. Check for and eliminate the following behaviors to help improve your communication skills:

  • Reading between the lines or offering a response before the speaker has finished giving the message.
  • Negatively disagreeing or deliberately misunderstanding the message, an inability to put emotions aside to hear the message.
  • Judging the message or failing to be empathetic, bragging, and agendas.
  • Failure to be fully present, allowing your mind to wander, looking at a phone or TV, not using good eye contact, etc. The message giver will notice!

If in doubt, ask someone you trust to give you feedback on areas needing improvement.

Ideas For Improving Active Listening Skills

You can improve your listening skills by implementing the positive techniques below.

  • See the world through the speaker’s eyes. Attempt to understand the emotions behind the message. Go into conversations with the goal of understanding the speaker. This allows the speaker to trust you and form a bond.
  • Ensure your body language adds energy and encourages the speaker. Excessive body language looks silly and distorts any feedback you offer. For example, over-nodding your head or over-the-top facial expressions.
  • Ask open-ended questions requiring an answer other than yes or no. “Oh, no! What happened next?” Or, “That must have been so frustrating for you! How did you react?”
  • Have a secondary goal of learning something from the speaker. This practice can make the interaction more interesting to both parties.
  • Encourage others in the conversation to offer personal opinions. In doing so, you display interest and respect for the thoughts and feelings of others. Therefore, they feel valued and will likely seek you out in the future.
  • Never interrupt a speaker. Period.

Additionally, become comfortable with natural pauses. Small pauses in conversations are often needed to allow time for personal reflection.

Active listening skills diagram

Active Listening Scenarios

3. James mentions the PTA’s election for president is next week. You respond, “Amy doesn’t have what it takes. Kay’s got it in the bag.”

What faux pas are you guilty of making?

4. Kallie is telling a funny story. As she talks, she edges closer until her face is six inches from yours. You catch a strong whiff of onion. Now, you can’t focus on Kallie’s story?

What is the error? Who’s making it?

5. Joe just told you a joke. Then, you laugh appropriately and tell him you have one even better. You proceed to tell your joke.

What was your mistake?

Answers to all scenarios are posted at the end of this article.

Holstee Reflection Cards – A Deck of 100+ Questions to Spark Meaningful Connections and Conversations: Get them here!

A Few Final Thoughts

In summary, active listening skills are vital for human interaction. It opens the lines of communication between speaker and listener and leads to meaningful, supportive conversation.

As a result of attentive listening, both parties develop trust and understanding.

Developing active listening skills helps you make friends and enjoy promising relationships. Therefore, increasing your communication skills can be a hedge against isolation and loneliness! People tend to naturally gravitate toward those with good social skills.

As you practice the techniques in this guide, they’ll become more ingrained and natural. Then, eventually, you may even realize you’ve become a good listener without having to try anymore!

Have a Meaningful Conversation Pin

Answers to Scenarios

1. Glanced at her watch; looked toward the door as if wanting to escape; not making eye contact; not fully engaged in the conversation

2. Smiling; leaning in to listen more closely; nodding; appropriate eye contact; understanding the message was the man’s pride in his son and appropriately complementing the son’s prowess.

(Touch is not an active listening response as it is not always appropriate. Good judgment should always be used, depending upon the established relationship and circumstances.)

3. The listener offered no clarification of the message but went straight to personal bias. A more appropriate response would be, “The election is next week already? I must remember to go vote!”

4. Kallie invaded your personal space. Stay far enough away so your conversation partner can’t smell what you ate for lunch. (And try popping some mints!)

You forgot to clarify the message and insinuated judgment by implying your joke is better than Joe’s.


You May Also Like:

275 Good Conversation Starters

125 Funny Things To Talk About: Life Of The Party

Embarrassing Questions To Avoid: Don’t Make These Key Mistakes

How To Make New Friends As An Adult

How To Be Better Friends With Others

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  1. Your blog always has such great tips for people working in an organization. Loved how comprehensive and detailed this was.

  2. Great tips! I appreciate the effort you went to in making this so easy to understand and incorporate into daily life.

  3. Saving this as a guide. I really love this! I think out of anxiousness sometimes I wanna be planning in my head what my response will be because I wanna show that I’m interested, but I think it only does the opposite effect. Especially in a new social situation, thank you for this!!

    1. In reality, I think it’s something we all do sometimes and our anxiety makes it even worse! One of the reasons I wrote this post is because social anxiety is real and it is painful to experience.

  4. What a brilliant post, I do find myself(my mind) running and I fail to listen this drives people crazy especially if they give simple instructions that I forget in minutes.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. I’m glad I found this before the family and friends holiday gatherings. I have a tendency to not be a good listener! Will keep these tips in mind.

  6. Awesome article, thank you for sharing your insights! It is often said of the most influential people in history that their biggest impact was felt on an individual basis- they made people around them feel important. Your article teaches us how we can do just that- active listening will make those around us feel heard and appreciated- that enrichment alone is worthwhile!

    1. Thank you for pointing that out! I hope it helps with remembering active listening skills, plus it gives a visual in your mind for better retention. Appreciate your comment!

  7. Really detailed post on active listening. I think many people don’t even think about active listening. They just think of it as listening, but it’s so important to be present and really engaged in the listening aspect of a conversation.

  8. Such a good article! I am in a leadership position at work and this concept is so important and can make such a difference in relationships with co workers. I appreciated the scenarios and i things I can work on to improve.

  9. Very insightful post on active listening. I’m a retail sales manager and I’m always reminding my staff to listen to the customer and address their needs. This post is perfect in so many parts of life. Thanks for sharing!

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