Active Listening

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

Time Required

At least 10 minutes. Try to make time for this practice at least once per week.

How to Do It

Find a quiet place where you can talk with a conversation partner without interruption or distraction. Invite him or her to share what’s on his or her mind. As he or she does so, try to follow the steps below. You don’t need to cover every step, but the more you do cover, the more effective this practice is likely to be.

  1. Paraphrase. Once the other person has finished expressing a thought, paraphrase what he or she said to make sure you understand and to show that you are paying attention. Helpful ways to paraphrase include “What I hear you saying is…” “It sounds like…” and “If I understand you right….”
  2. Ask questions. When appropriate, ask questions to encourage the other person to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. Avoid jumping to conclusions about what the other person means. Instead, ask questions to clarify his or her meaning, such as, “When you say_____, do you mean_____”? 
  3. Express empathy. If the other person voices negative feelings, strive to validate these feelings rather than questioning or defending against them. For example, if the speaker expresses frustration, try to consider why he or she feels that way, regardless of whether you think that feeling is justified or whether you would feel that way yourself were you in his or her position. You might respond, “I can sense that you’re feeling frustrated,” and even “I can understand how that situation could cause frustration.”
  4. Use engaged body language. Show that you are engaged and interested by making eye contact, nodding, facing the other person, and maintaining an open and relaxed body posture. Avoid attending to distractions in your environment or checking your phone. Be mindful of your facial expressions: Avoid expressions that might communicate disapproval or disgust.
  5. Avoid judgment. Your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective and accept it for what it is, even if you disagree with it. Try not to interrupt with counter-arguments or mentally prepare a rebuttal while the other person is speaking.
  6. Avoid giving advice. Problem-solving is likely to be more effective after both conversation partners understand one another’s perspective and feel heard. Moving too quickly into advice-giving can be counterproductive. 
  7. Take turns. After the other person has had a chance to speak and you have engaged in the active listening steps above, ask if it’s okay for you to share your perspective. When sharing your perspective, express yourself as clearly as possible using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel overwhelmed when you don’t help out around the house”). It may also be helpful, when relevant, to express empathy for the other person’s perspective (e.g., “I know you’ve been very busy lately and don’t mean to leave me hanging…”).
Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

Why You Should Try It

Often we’ll listen to a conversation partner without really hearing him or her. In the process, we miss opportunities to connect with that person—and even risk making him or her feel neglected, disrespected, and resentful.

This exercise helps you express active interest in what the other person has to say and make him or her feel heard—a way to foster empathy and connection. This technique is especially well-suited for difficult conversations (such as arguments with a spouse) and for expressing support. Research suggests that using this technique can help others feel more understood and improve relationship satisfaction.

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

Evidence That It Works

Weger, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactionsInternational Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.

Participants had brief conversations (about their biggest disappointment with their university) with someone trained to engage in active listening, someone who gave them advice, or someone who gave simple acknowledgments of their point of view. Participants who received active listening reported feeling more understood at the end of the conversation.

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

Why It Works

Active listening helps listeners better understand others’ perspectives and helps speakers feel more understood and less threatened. This technique can prevent miscommunication and spare hurt feelings on both sides. By improving communication and preventing arguments from escalating, active listening can make relationships more enduring and satisfying. Practicing active listening with someone close to you can also help you listen better when interacting with other people in your life, such as students, co-workers, or roommates.

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)


Instructions adapted from: Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S.L. (1994). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers.

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

For More

Difficulty: Intensive | Frequency: 1x/week | Duration: 10 mins
(10 member ratings)

Active Listening involves approaching a conversation with a genuine desire to understand the other person’s feelings and perspective, without judgment or defensiveness. When you engage in Active Listening, you tune into what your conversation partner is communicating with their words and body language. How well do you feel and understand what others are feeling? Take the Empathy quiz to find out. 

Completion Status

Comments & Reviews

  1. Phil
    February 13, 2018

    There's a step missing here... my wife and I have been trying this for years with only partial success, and only just realised why recently. You have to talk about feelings! We too often got caught up in 'you did, I did' discussions, which derailed everything , we went round in frustrating circles. Finally I have realised I need to ask, 'yes, but when I did that how did you FEEL about it?' Then sharing happens and trust and closeness builds.

  2. Expat returned
    Expat returned
    April 4, 2017

    When you have a crush on somebody all of these come naturally when listening to that person 😊 (well, or you just "like", you don't have to have a crush)

  3. Shelly Dvorak
    Shelly Dvorak
    October 8, 2015

    I think it's interesting to separate what I'm capable of (in regard to empathy) and what I regularly practice. I am capable of great empathy and can very easily tap into and understand the emotions of others. Yet, I regularly forget (or fail) to leverage my skill when I am feeling upset or frustrated. It's beneficial for me to consider the gap between what regularly "is" in my consciousness, and what "could be," based upon my natural talent in this area. Looking at that gap gives me confidence that I could improve happiness and contentedness for myself and others regularly, just through mindfully practicing the skills I already possess (rather than allowing my emotions to cause a lock-down on my empathic system).

  4. Jason Marsh
    Jason Marsh
    May 27, 2015

    Thank you for your comment, Aaron. It's always enormously helpful to hear how people are putting our materials into practice.

  5. Aaron Cooper PhD
    Aaron Cooper PhD
    May 27, 2015

    As a marriage counselor, I'm coaching clients all the time on the skill of Active Listening. Your module is a really great aide for me, and already clients of mine have reported on its helpfulness. Thank you for providing this wonderful website.

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