Active listening is the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully. Unlike passive listening, which is the act of hearing a speaker without retaining their message, this highly valued interpersonal communication skill ensures you’re able to engage and later recall specific details without needing information repeated.

Active listeners use verbal and non-verbal techniques to show and keep their attention on the speaker. This not only supports your ability to focus, but also helps ensure the speaker can see that you are focused and engaged. Instead of thinking about and mentally rehearsing what you might say when the speaker is done, an active listener carefully considers the speaker’s words and commits the information to memory.

Here are some useful active listening techniques:

SkillExplanationExample
RephrasingStating back to the speaker what they said in different words.Speaker: “I’m frustrated about my work because my boss doesn’t listen to me”
Listener: “So what I’m hearing is that you’re not feeling listened to at your job and feeling upset about it?”
ReiterationStating back to the speaker exactly what they saidSpeaker: “I’m sad”
Listener: “So it sounds like you’re feeling pretty sad”
ParaphrasingRepeating to the speaker what they said in your own wordsSpeaker: “Ugh, sometimes people are just so completely clueless!”
Listener: “Sounds like you’re feeling upset because you’re disappointed in other people”
SummarizingRepeating back to the speaker in a nutshell the basics of a longer story they’ve told youSpeaker: “So yesterday at work my boss was telling everyone how much he hated people who have trouble with details and recently I got written up for missing details in my latest report. I felt really attacked by my boss”.
Listener: “So it sounds like you felt like your boss was making a direct critique of you to the entire office”
AffirmationsGiving the speaker encouragement, oosts self-confidence and shows client you’re paying attention.Listener: “You handled that really well”
Short InterjectionsNodding, saying “yes” or “I see”Speaker: “I was really hurt by what Sally did”
Listener: “Yes, I see”
ClarifyingClarifying when you receive conflicting information and checking with clients to ensure that your understanding is correctSpeaker: “I didn’t think I’d see her again so I was relieved. But we were going to go out on Saturday and I was excited to see her”.
Listener: “So you weren’t sure you were going to see her again even though you had plans on Saturday?”
Speaker: “well, I wasn’t sure she would come”
Listener: “Okay, so you were excited when you saw her because you did get to see her”
Speaker: “yeah, I guess I wanted to see her even though I didn’t think I did when I was angry”
ReflectingMirror back expressions used by the speakerSpeaker: “I knew he would flip when she saw me with her ex”
Listener: “So did he flip out?”