Active Listening (Definition + Examples)

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and found yourself thinking about other things? Maybe you thought about how you were going to respond to them. Maybe you were distracted by something on their shirt or in their teeth. It’s possible that you were just tired and let the sounds of their voice go through one ear and out the other. When they’re finished talking, you realize you didn’t grasp anything they were saying! If this happens too frequently at work, school, or in your social life, you need to practice active listening. 

Active listening is a great, easy practice that allows you to be in the present moment and enjoy better communication. This page is all about what active listening is, how to implement it in everyday conversations, and even how to encourage others to do the same. Want to avoid miscommunication, and in return, feel more heard and valued by the people in your life? Keep reading about active listening! 

What is Active Listening? 

Active listening is the process of, well, actively listening. An active listener is fully present as they listen to others, and look for the deeper meaning and intent behind another person’s communication. This includes verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.

How Does Active Listening Work?

The mind focuses on what you want it to focus on. If you intentionally focus on the communication coming from another person, your brain will tune into what they are saying and how they are saying it. Without this intention and focus, your mind may wander to things like your to-do list or the response you have to share once the other person is done talking. 

Is Active Listening Verbal or Nonverbal? 

Active listening, like communication, is both verbal and nonverbal. You can show a person that you are actively listening through many different cues: 

  • Repeating vital information from the conversation 
  • Asking to clarify information and intention
  • Nodding and saying “okay” to show you hear the person or agree with them
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Mirroring the other person 

Benefits of Active Listening

Everyone is On The Same Page 

When you’re not fully focusing on what a person has to say, you may miss crucial communication that reveals the speaker’s deeper meaning. Let’s say, for example, that a person says something to you and gives you a wink to reassure you that they’re joking or playing around. You miss the wink because you’re not making eye contact, and the intention behind the person’s message is completely lost.

Active listening puts you on the same page. With full focus, you can catch all nonverbal communication and spend time reading between the lines of what is coming out of the person’s mouth. And if you are unsure of the message but your intention is to understand, you are more likely to ask questions and confirm that you’ve received the right message. 

Builds Trust and Relationship 

People want to feel like other people are listening to them. People want to trust that another person knows what they’re saying. Active listening builds that trust and reassures a person that you care about what they have to say. How obnoxious is it when you’re trying to say something important, but the person who is supposed to be listening is not paying attention? People will like you more if you consistently practice active listening. 

Practice Makes a Habit 

The more you practice active listening, the more habitual it will become. Ideally, you are always actively listening to someone who is talking so you can get the most out of what they’re saying. This may not be possible if you don’t like the person who is talking or you are too tired to focus. But even in these cases, you may find yourself actively listening out of habit, and gaining more from the communication than you would otherwise. 

Tips for Active Listening 

Are you having trouble with active listening at work or home? These small changes can help you tap into active listening and hear more of what another person has to say. 

Let Go Of Assumptions 

So often we show up to a conversation assuming what the other person is going to say. As soon as the person says something that aligns with our original expectations, we shut off our listening ears and confirm that the other person fulfills our expectations. For the rest of the conversation, we shut out what the person is really trying to communicate because we assume we already know the message they’re trying to send. No one is a mind reader or a fortune teller. Let go of your expectations and let the person speak for themselves. If you are “surprised” by what the person is saying, you may have not been listening as intently as you could have in past conversations. Or, the person is just complex, which most people are. 

Put Away Your Phone 

Our phones are designed to grab our attention and take our focus away from the present moment. If you are listening to someone talk and see your phone light up, you will likely break away from your active listening. Put away your phone before you have a conversation. Remove all distractions – shut your computer screen, put away anything that you like to fuss with, or even clean your house so you’re not worried about chores while talking to someone. The fewer distractions you allow yourself to access, the easier it will be to focus on the conversation at hand. 

Don’t Let Miscommunication Go 

If you find yourself confused by what someone is saying, don’t let it go. The other person will assume that you understand where they are coming from, even if you don’t. They cannot read your mind. Ask the other person to clarify what they mean by their statement or to explain what they said in a different way. This will avoid miscommunication in the future. 

Explain The Other Person’s Statement In Your Own Words Back to Them 

If you think you understand what the other person is saying, say it back to them in your own words. The best-case scenario is that you can show that you’ve been actively listening and the person will feel valued and heard. If you’re off-base, the person will adjust the way they are communicating with you and you can try again. This effort shows the other person you are listening and that you care enough to hear what they are saying. 

All of these small changes work together to create seamless active listening. 

Can Active Listening Be Taught? 

Yes! This is often a goal for teachers. They implement certain rules to ensure that their students actively listen during class. “No interrupting” or “repeat the information back to me” can help a student work through what they’ve heard and gain a deeper message. Active listening requires intention, and teaching mindfulness practices can help make that intention more habitual. 

If you find yourself losing focus while another person is talking, take small steps to actively listen. Ask your friends and family for feedback after conversations. You may not become the perfect conversation partner overnight, but these small changes can eventually make a big difference in your relationships, in your communication, and in your life.

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.