Active Listening

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Definition Active Listening? Meaning.

Really listening...

When people talk to each other, they do not necessarily listen. The purpose of active listening is to improve mutual understanding through carefully absorbing what the other has said.

Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities are important to fully attend to the speaker.

Active listening requires 3 things:

  • Comprehending (a shared meaning between the parties in the communication)
  • Retaining (remembering what was communicated)
  • Responding (verbal or nonverbal responses from the listener to show the message is being listened to)

Effective Communication

Besides poor listening, 4 more factors are known to prevent good communication and understanding what the other person means:

  1. Subject Complexity

    • Is the subject matter new or does the listener has experience with it?

    • Is the subject matter difficult to understand, or simple?

    • Is the subject matter interesting and important to the listener?

  2. The Speaker

    • Is the speaker experienced?

    • What are the non-verbal cues of the speaker?

    • What frame of mind is he or she?

    • How personable, threatening, intelligent, etc.?

  3. The Presentation

    • Is the information illustrated with visuals?

    • Is technology used effectively?

    • Is the information introduced logically?

    • Are concepts introduced incrementally, with examples?

  4. The Environment

    • Is the environment conducive to listening?

    • Can the listener interact and exchange information with the speaker?

    • Are there distractions that can be avoided?

Using Active Listening

According to Zenger and Folkman (2016), "People perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight".

Active Listening is obviously a particularly important skill for coaches, mentors and leaders and managers. Van Quaquebeke and Felps (2016) draw on Theory of Human Needs (McClelland) and Self-Determination Theory of Human Motivation (Deci and Ryan) and argue that when leaders are asking open questions combined with attentive listening, a practice they call "respectful inquiry", such practice principally satisfies followers' basic psychological needs for competence (feeling challenged and experiencing mastery), relatedness (feeling of belonging), and autonomy (feeling in control and having options)."

Carl R. Rogers and Richard Evans Farson, "Active Listening", Chicago 1957
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman: "What Great Listeners Actually Do", HBR Jul. 2016
Niels Van Quaquebeke and Will Felps, "Respectful Inquiry: A Motivational Account of Leading Through Asking Questions and Listening", Academy of Management Review Vol. 43, no. 1, Jul. 2016, pp. 5-27

Special Interest Group

Active Listening Special Interest Group.

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Forum about Active Listening. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

topic Tips to Improve your Assertiveness
Do you recognize the feeling: "When I say NO, I feel guilty..."? According to Revelle College, UC San Diego, “One of the most common problems in communication is caused by trying to read people's mi...
Comments11 comments
topic Nonviolent Communication
Somewhat in the same 'league' as Active Listening is the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) method by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. His approach is also being referred to as: "Compassionate Communication" and "...
Comments16 comments
🔥 I HEAR You
Both Active Listening and Nonviolent Communication focus on LISTENING to the other person. But actually SPEAKING is also a key element of both approaches. Why? In any helping relationship you need to ...
Comments3 comments
topic 8 Types of Poor Listeners
Following are the 8 categories of poor listeners: Mind Readers - They always try to read the mind of their opponent while listening to them. They therefore will not concentrate on what is being to...
Comments2 comments
topic 4 Levels of Listening
In our work as consultants we have identified 4 levels of listening: 1. Downloading (I might say yes at the right time, but don’t really pay attention) 2. Objective (I hear what you say, but I alway...
Comments3 comments
topic Beware of the Power of the Influence of Speakers
Friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, I have come to bury Caesar not to praise him" - Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. All those who listened to Anthony were convinced. So, the gist behind is...
topic Listening Includes Non-Verbal Communication As Well !
Listening goes beyond words and should be extended to non-verbal communication. In some cases, the truth of what is being said lies in what is NOT said. The listener should not only open his/her ear...
Comments2 comments
topic Good Listening is Welcoming the Richness of the Sharing
Listening is about being able to put our ego at distance from the objective of the exchange, not reacting to what the other brings into the exchange, but welcoming the richness of the sharing. We ne...
topic What Politics can Teach us About Listening
Politicians are incredible! They say and repeat that they are the best listeners while they never really take into account what people say. But people are even more incredible! They want to be listen...
topic WHEN To Be a Good Listener?
Should one ALWAYS be a good, active listener? I believe it depends on the quality of the dialogue and the extent of its importance to you and points for discussion and what its importance to you both...
topic Often the one who listens looses...
Effective communication is key to success. The first principle is normally to listen to the other(s). However, in my view the competitive market and the time constraints which are there in today's sc...
Comments2 comments
topic Be Careful With Interpreting What is Said
Although we refer to listening as the most effective way of communication, it is very important to note that we as human beings stereotype and are very infatuated by the impression we have, of the per...
topic Dialogue Communication Network
There is a communication dilemma that says "I know you think you understood what you thought I said, (or wrote), but I am not so sure that what you thought I said (or wrote) was what I really meant". ...
topic Active Listening is 2-way
Active listening, as I understanding it, means to give back information what I understood. This is valid for both sides of a discussion, the sender and the receiver of a message. Why? As a sender, ...
topic Real Life Example of Active Listening
Have you ever reflected on a person who is awaiting the final judgment in court - guilty or not guilty – on the fall of the hammer? Even if a mother-of-all bomb was to fall next to him, he would have ...
Comments1 comments
topic Comprehend, Retain and Respond is Crucial to Learn
I teach adults and this is so relevant to the class room atmosphere both for me and the student. Those three items active listeners must practice are important: comprehend, retain and respond. Most ...
Comments1 comments
topic Active Listening is a Key International Competence
A key tactic to effective active listening is to check and clarify, rather than assume the understanding of others. This can be done by paraphrasing and exploring words that others use as well as the ...
topic Is Active Listening the Opposite of Selective Listening?
I think we can understand the phrase 'Active Listening' better if we know what Selective Listening means. In selective listening, someone hears only what (s)he wants to hear....
Comments1 comments
topic Can Active Listening Make you Lonely?
Listening is of vital importance in every tenet of human interactions, from ages to now, be it business or personal life. But, surprisingly, I have observed that, the more a person is willing to lis...
Comments1 comments
topic Quotes on Active Listening
Active listening is the courage and patience one should have to allow others to change themselves....

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Best Practices

The best, top-rated topics about Active Listening. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

🥇 Listening Brings Success in People Management
Managing anything requires effective communication. Listening is an integral part of communication. Speaking and writing we learn from childhood onwards. But in listening we rarely receive formal tr...
Comments18 comments

🥈 Listening Skills for Managers
Good listening makes for good management. Studies have shown that regarding communication activities, humans use listening skills (45%) more than talking (30%) reading (16%) and writing (9%). So why d...
🥉 Demonstrating How Difficult Good Listening Is | Distortion Exercise
I have run a development program on communications many times. Often I include a simple fun listening game. - The game starts with one attendee going out of the room with the presenter. - The presen...
Comments5 comments

topic Tips on the HOW of Active Listening
1. The listener should repeat via rephrasing what the speaker said, e.g. ... I hear what you said: you feel that there is not enough management support on skill training... Note that in the repeating...
Comments9 comments

topic Listening Does not Equal Hearing!
During a workshop on leading, we were able to distinguish the difference between listening and hearing. - Hearing is complete as something is heard. - Listening covers hearing, processing, convertin...
Comments4 comments

topic Obstacles to Active Listening
The main obstacle to active listening, in my view, is often the lack of willingness to listen. It is not a simple issue of skills. From time to time, we jump to conclusions before listening to what ...
Comments4 comments

topic Good Listening Allows for a Good Response
Only a good listener can become a good speaker. Because an accurate period of listening gives him/her ample time to analyze and come to a proper judgment, while a rushed, hurried reply might spoil man...
Comments4 comments

Expert Tips

Advanced insights about Active Listening. Here you will find professional advices by experts.


LEADER: Best Practices for Effective Leadership Behavior

Leadership Behavior, Leadership Effectiveness, Leadership Style
Following six short behavioral tips can help you to enhance your leadership efficiency: 1. L - LISTENING: Actively list...
Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding Active Listening. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.


Hearing versus Listening

Communicating Effectively, Active Listening, Coaching, Mentoring
A comprehensive presentation about listening and how to do it well. Includes a scheme of the steps in the listening pro...

Nonverbal Persuasion and Communication: Effects and Types

Nonverbal Persuasion, Nonverbal Communication, Sales, Selling, PR, Applying for a Job
Presentation that describes the concept of nonverbal persuasion, including the following sections: 1. Overview of nonve...

Communication Essentials: Non-verbal, Verbal and Listening Skills

Communication Skills, Personal Skills, Confidence, Power, Influence, Sincerity, Trust
Presentation about communication skills, including non-verbal and verbal communication and listening skills. The present...

The Role of Supervisor | Skills of Supervisors

Skills of a Supervisor, Supervisor Role, Supervisor Behavior
This presentation elaborates on the skills that supervisors need in order to be successful in their business/organizatio...

Practical Communication Tips for Managers

Management Skills, Leadership Skills, Management Development, Leadership Development, Situational Leadership
As manager you need to combine professional expertise and experience with specific character traits, interpersonal and c...

How to Manage Challenging Situations and Challenging People?

People Management, Conflict Management, Persuasion, Challenging Situations
This presentation is about the management of Conflicts, other challenging situations and about managing challenging peop...

7 Differences between Good and Great Speakers

Best Practice for Speakers
Dianna Booher discusses 7 differences between good and great speakers: All good speakers do good on the 7 items below, ...

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Compare also: Johari Window  |  Hawthorne Effect  |  Action Learning  |  Covert Leadership  |  Abilene Paradox  |  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator  |  Storytelling  |  Employee Attitude Survey  |  Coaching  |  Mentoring

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