Personal Growth

Active Listening

January 11, 2017   /
Elaine M. Hinzey, RD, LDN

Active listening is a learned skill of fully focusing on what another person is saying. Modern society has caused humans to adapt to taking in many different forms of input at one time. While another person is speaking, we often are focused on dozens of other things, both externally and internally. This leads others to feel that they cannot trust us, that we are not willing to listen to them or take them seriously, and that we are more concerned about ourselves.

Basic principles of active listening

These basic principles can help you improve your listening skills.

The ultimate goal: Decide beforehand on the ultimate goal of the dialogue—to learn more, to express empathy, to build on an existing relationship, etc.

Attentiveness: Stop what you are doing, and focus your attention on the words spoken.

Listening skills: Do not formulate your response or make a list of points that you need to address while the other person is speaking. This is very difficult for most people.

The quick fix: Do not try to quickly “fix” the problem in order to get back to your own work.

Upset individuals: Remember when individuals are very upset, it will not help in any way to tell them not to feel upset and will most likely make them feel that they cannot express their feelings to you.

Thoughts and feelings: Think about the individuals speaking. What are they thinking about and feeling?

Emotions: Do not respond in an emotional manner. Let the speaker finish talking, digest the information for a moment, and then decide about how to respond.

Eye contact: Make eye contact with the person speaking. Use other nonverbal cues to show that you are present in the conversation—nod your head, lean forward, etc.

Paraphrase: Paraphrase what individuals have said after they are finished speaking to make sure you understand the message correctly. Ask questions to show that you want to fully understand what they are telling you. Ask open questions to get more information about feelings, and closed questions to garner more factual information.

Feelings: Paraphrase not only what the speakers have said, but also how you think they are feeling. For example, say “I understand that you are frustrated.”

Silence: Stay silent after you have voiced your response and expressed your feelings. Respect individuals enough to give them time to digest what you have said.

The response: Use the pronoun “I” whenever responding. “I feel…” or “I believe…”

Refocus: Refocus the conversation as necessary. Do not attempt to address too many topics within one conversation.


Becoming an active listener

Practice and awareness are important elements of active listening. Active listening is a habit you need to develop. If you want to become more aware of when your attention is drifting and become a more active listener, you must make a commitment to do so. This will not happen overnight.


References and recommended readings

International Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium. Active Listening. University of Colorado website. Accessed December 8, 2013.

Landberger J. Cooperative learning series: active listening. Study Guides and Strategies website. Accessed December 8, 2013.

Wilson B. Part I: strategies for business listeners. website. Accessed December 8, 2013.