Key tips for active listening

Active listening is a foundation communication skill. Its primary assumption is that the listener is trying to understand the speaker’s point of view, ideas, and experience. These tips are examples of active listening skills that will aid our effort to understand what the other person is intending to say.

Listening tips that aid in understanding a conversation

  • Choose to listen: Choose to be present. Or, if you cannot listen now, but are willing, set a time together for later.

  • Find a good space: Choose a place to talk without distractions.

  • Take the time: Let the other person tell his/her story.

  • Respond (vs. react): Choose your body language, tone, and intention. Focus on becoming aware of your immediate reactions so you can choose active listening when you want.

  • Show interest: Make appropriate eye contact (don’t answer your phone or check it for email; don’t reply to a text).

  • Ask questions: Ask for more information. Practice the “art of inquiry” by genuinely asking the speaker for his/her perspective, ideas.

  • Clarify/paraphrase: Not everyone knows exactly what they mean to say. Check whether or not you understand. For example, “It sounds like what you are saying is…. Is that right?”

  • Be patient: It’s not easy for people to talk about important things. Watch for (our normal human) judgment and re-focus on what the person is trying to tell you.

  • Listen for content and emotion: Both the topic itself and the speaker’s feelings may convey the message s/he wants to send. It’s OK sometimes to ask, “How are you doing with all this?”

  • Pick up cues: Look for body language, interests, enthusiasm.

  • Learn: Discover something new. Learn some new facts or ideas or ways of seeing things.

  • Follow their lead: Ask what is important to the speaker (rather than deciding where his/her story must go or how it must end).

  • Be kind: Listen with heart as well as with mind.


If you have any questions, please reach out to Jeannette Gerzon.