10 Steps guide to improve your active listening skills for effective communication

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By: Naveen B

The key to being an effective communicator is that you have to know how to listen. Active listening is crucial in our day to day to life.

Many of us may not think much about the sheer amount of words we hear each day. A particular study found that an average person hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words over the course of a 24-hour period.

However, just listening is entirely different from active listening.

In personal development – like another skill, active listening skills are essential to enhance one’s personality, build healthy relationships and understand the message of the speaker clearly without any misinterpretations.

Related Article: 25 steps to become successful without getting lucky

So, let’s dive deep into the concept of active listening and close the gap between the speaker and listener by improving effective listening skills. 

A step-by-step guide for strong communication. Pay attention while reading and digesting this list of active listening techniques, strategies, tips, benefits, and rules.

Before jumping into the main examples of active listening, firstly, let’s understand – 

What is listening?

Listening is the ability to listen accurately by understanding what is being communicated and accurately interpreting messages coming from other people in the communication process.

If you got the clarity in the definition of listening and a basic understanding of communication. Let’s see what is active listening and who is an active listener?

What is active listening?

Definition of active listening: The act of active listening is a mental process that requires concentrating on sound, finding meaning within it, and interacting with it.

Definition of active listener

An active listener is a person who is either naturally mastered an effective communication or developed extreme listening skills through making points and paying attention to every feature of the speaker, for example, body language, facial expressions, by mutual understanding, etc.,

Why is active listening important?

Importance of active listening: Studies suggest that effective listening and strong communication have been shown to exert a positive influence on the development of the healthcare industry, therapy, in personal relationships, and fostering improved understanding of oneself in the process. 

The ability to listen with complete attention shows empathy, compassion, caring, and loving nature. Since it entails accurately receiving, as well as accurately interpreting messages.

Therefore, active listening is really an important skill one must practice in order to excel in any business, professional or personal life.

Causes of poor listening

It is not an easy task to communicate. Having conversations with others is a complex process, requiring people to switch between speaking and listening rapidly.

That’s why many of us have poor listening skills. Here is the list of reasons for poor listening.

  • We think faster than we speak. 
  • Listening concentration is more difficult for an average person. 
  • In addition to this, we also tend not to ask any questions when we are not interested. Therefore, our critical faculties tend to be distracted by our emotions.
  • People generally listen just to gather the facts and avoid paying attention to the overall conversation.
  • Another factor that affects active listening ability includes the re-construction of information that is spoken orally after it has been received by the listener.
  • The way we listen is affected by our emotions to varying degrees, and in many different ways. Thinking in terms of a metaphor, we mentally turn off what we don’t want to hear.

How to improve active listening skills?

Improving active listening skills is more than just paying attention. It requires deliberate practice. So, how to practice active listening? 

Become aware of factors affecting your listening ability. By merely discussing listening factors, a certain degree of awareness is developed. Learn what it takes to develop good listening habits. A good listening habit is acquired by sound experience.

For more tips to improve your listening skills follow these below steps.

Steps for active listening

A person with strong listening skills will be able to communicate effectively with the other party, and will thus be in a better position to reach their goals.

Here are the 10 steps to active listening. Follow them and apply in your life.

Step 1: Give your complete attention to the speaker

An effecting listening involves maintaining the appropriate posture and avoid distracting mannerisms; focus on what the speaker is saying. Maintain eye contact; nod and smile when appropriate.

Step 2: Understand before you want to be understood

Get to know the speaker better: “That’s a great idea, but can you elaborate on it?”

When you seek meaningful understanding, you will be understood better and the person speaking will provide more information that will add value to the conversation. 

Step 3: Control your personal judgments

If you are able to remember some of the crucial points mentioned by the speaker at the end of the discussion, it indicates you are a good attentive listener.

Step 4: Don’t interrupt the speaker until the point is being made

The communication flows smoothly only because of the involvement of the active listener.

Make sure to stay silent while the speaker making his mind-altering perspectives.  Then interrupt only when you are not sure of a particular point that has been made.

Step 5: Ask questions to avoid the conflicts

Keeping active listening is also possible by asking questions. Active listeners will always inquire about something from the speaker.

As such, on the one hand, you need to question the speaker to demonstrate that you are actively listening to what they are saying, on the other you can also be questioned by the speaker about what they are discussing to determine whether you are actively listening to them or not.

Step 6: Make sure you are receiving the exact message

Keep your attention still, and ask the right questions such as,” This is what you mean? Did I receive your perspective as you are intended to deliver?”

Step 7: Remember the details for future reference

If you are able to remember some of the crucial points mentioned by the speaker at the end of the discussion, it indicates you are a good attentive listener.

Step 8: Evaluate the information you gathered before reflecting

Just actively listening is not the job of a listener. A good listener always evaluate the information and relates the topic by making multiple analyses then reflect back to sync with the story.

Step 9: Take time to prepare yourself for responding

Don’t just ask unnecessary questions for the sake of asking. No need to prove the speaker that you are caring and actively listening.

Your actions speak more than your words. So, just listen with undivided attention. Take time to prepare yourself for responding at the right moment.

Step 10: Share your genuine feedback

Interpersonal skills are way beyond just listening or speaking. In order to come to a mutual conclusion.

The listener has to respond and share his genuine feedback with utmost honesty and truthfully comprehend his message in return to the speaker. So, that the speaker improves further communication.

Examples of active listening skills

  • Looking the speaker in the eyes while he is in action.
  • Paraphrasing your own words to the speaker’s meaning to show that you understand and actively listening.
  • Thinking deep about the emotions behind the speaker’s words. For instance, your colleague may be complaining about her boss because she feels unappreciated. This shows your empathetic skills.
  • Predicting and visualizing what the speaker is trying to convey. 
  • Showing patience and allowing the speaker to finish his point.

Types of active listening

Effective communication hinges on truly understanding the speaker’s message. Active listening goes beyond simply hearing the words; it involves engaging with the speaker on a deeper level. Here’s a breakdown of key techniques and types of active listening:

1. Paraphrasing:

  • Function: Restating the speaker’s message in your own words to confirm understanding.
  • Example: “So, if I understand correctly, you’re feeling frustrated by the lack of progress on the project.”

2. Reflecting Feelings:

  • Function: Acknowledging and recognizing the underlying emotions expressed by the speaker.
  • Example: “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed that things haven’t gone as planned.”

3. Reflecting Meaning:

  • Function: Identifying the core message and intent behind the speaker’s words.
  • Example: “You seem to be saying that this situation is causing you a significant amount of stress.”

4. Summative Reflection:

  • Function: Briefly summarizing the key points of the conversation to ensure mutual understanding.
  • Example: “To summarize, you’re concerned about the deadline and would like to explore potential solutions. Is that accurate?”

By utilizing these techniques, you demonstrate active listening, fostering trust, rapport, and a deeper connection with the speaker.

Signs of active listening

  • An active listener takes the responsibility to think ahead of the speaker, anticipating what he or she is said to say next and what conclusion will be drawn from the words spoken once they are delivered.
  • Another sign of active listening is when we have a genuine interest in a topic, we ask a few questions about what we hear and embody the information into our long-term memory

  • The listener looks at the evidence the speaker uses to support his position. “Is this support correct?” the listener asks himself. “Is it enough to show that he was right?”

  • In the course of active listening, the listener reviews the points discussed so far and mentally summarizes them.
  • Throughout the talk, the listener “listens between the lines” in search of meaning that is not necessarily put into spoken words. 
  • Taking note of nonverbal pieces of communication such as facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, the active listener analyzes whether its significance depends on the spoken words. To see if it adds meaning to their spoken words. He asks himself, “Is the speaker deliberately avoiding something?”

5 Active listening components

  • Interest: Any active listening skills involve, at first that the listener should be interested in the discussion or the topic. Only then there will be chances of effective communication.
  • Body language: Body language such as facial expressions, behavior and attitude shows the attributes of the listening skills.
  • Concern: Not just be interested in the topic but the listener has to show concern on the speaker and what he or she is trying to convey. This is the essential component of active listening skills.
  • Openness: A good listener always keeps his options open and opinions to himself and actively participates in the conversation to gather new information. This the trick behind any type of listening.
  • Response: The response of the active listener help to ensure that we: seek to understand and clarify what is communicated. Thus, helps to come to a conclusion with mutual understanding.

Characteristics of active listening

  • Non-verbal behavior: Establish the trustworthiness of the relationship by using body language to create goodwill.
  • Focus: Keep the focus on the comments of the speaker to understand, and to feel effectively participating in the communication.
  • Acceptance: Accept the ideas and feelings of the person who is speaking: “That’s an interesting idea, how did you come to that conclusion?” These kinds of interactive questions help to develop the communication process.”
  • Empathy: Empathize in a genuinely human way to clearly understand from the speaker’s point of view: “So when that happened, you felt angry.” Helps.
  • Probing: Probe in an informative but non-interrogative way: “Can you elaborate on that? Why did you feel that way?”
  • Paraphrasing: Paraphrase to clarify her understanding and reassure the speaker it is correct.
  • Summarizing: You ought to briefly summarize the conversation often, especially in conflicting circumstances.
  • Advice: Provide a variety of alternatives by proposing (or asking) for some from the speaker

Active listening techniques

Techniques of active listening:

Active listening is more than simply paying attention. It’s a deliberate approach to truly understanding the speaker’s message, both the verbal content and the underlying emotions. By actively listening, you can foster stronger relationships, improve communication accuracy, and navigate complex situations effectively.

Here are the key techniques that define active listening:

1. Giving Your Full Presence:

  • Minimize distractions: Put away your phone, silence notifications, and find a quiet space for the conversation.
  • Maintain eye contact: This demonstrates attentiveness and encourages the speaker to elaborate.
  • Open body language: Leaning slightly forward with an uncrossed posture shows genuine interest.

2. Demonstrating Non-Verbal Cues:

  • Facial expressions: Nodding occasionally and using appropriate facial expressions like a smile can acknowledge the speaker and encourage them to continue.
  • Mirroring: Subtly mirroring the speaker’s posture or gestures can build rapport and indicate that you’re following their train of thought.

3. Engaging Verbally:

  • Asking clarifying questions: Don’t hesitate to ask open-ended questions to ensure you grasp the speaker’s intent and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Summarizing and paraphrasing: Briefly restate what you’ve heard in your own words to demonstrate understanding and encourage the speaker to correct any misinterpretations.

4. Acknowledging Emotions:

  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues: Notice the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to understand the emotional undercurrent of their message.
  • Validate their feelings: Acknowledge and show empathy for the emotions they are expressing.

5. Withholding Judgment:

  • Avoid interrupting: Allow the speaker to finish their thoughts before responding.
  • Listen without forming counter-arguments: Focus on understanding their perspective before formulating your own response.

By actively employing these techniques, you can become a more effective listener and build stronger connections in all your interactions. Remember, active listening is a continuous process that requires practice and mindful effort.

Active listening strategies

Strategies for effective listening:

Active listening is more than just passively hearing words. It’s about fully engaging with the speaker and demonstrating genuine understanding. Here’s a breakdown of key strategies, along with some additional tips:

1. Listen Attentively:

  • Focus completely: Minimize distractions and give the speaker your undivided attention.
  • Show presence: Maintain good posture and avoid fidgeting to convey engagement.

2. Be Open-Minded:

  • Approach without bias: Set aside your own assumptions and judgments.
  • Seek understanding: Try to see things from the speaker’s perspective.

3. Maintain Eye Contact:

  • Establish connection: Make eye contact to show you’re engaged and interested.
  • Be mindful: Avoid excessive staring, which can be perceived as unsettling.

4. Demonstrate Empathy:

  • Acknowledge feelings: Recognize and validate the speaker’s emotions.
  • Respond with care: Use nonverbal cues like nodding and facial expressions to show you understand.

5. Utilize Silence Effectively:

  • Allow elaboration: Don’t interrupt; brief pauses can encourage the speaker to share more.
  • Reflect thoughtfully: Use silence to process information and formulate your response.

Additional Strategies:

  • Ask clarifying questions: Seek further information to ensure clear understanding.
  • Minimize distractions: Put away your phone and silence any notifications.
  • Offer positive reinforcement: Acknowledge the speaker’s points with verbal cues like “yes” or “uh-huh.”

By actively listening, you build trust, establish rapport, and create a space for effective communication.

Active listening skills in the workplace

In the workplace, active listening helps in recognizing others’ thoughts, interpretations, and feelings that enable us to appreciate them.

This not only facilitates conflict resolution but also cultivates a culture of respect. In order to create a healthy workplace environment –  Try to understand others’ perspectives before reacting quickly.

Active listening exercises

Exercise on summarizing the conversation:

You should attend every conversation with a summary at least for 5 to 7 days. The goal is to follow up consistently on decisions that are reached during conversations with summarizing.

Group activity exploring specific topics: a game and an exercise

  •  Be open-minded: disengage your biases, search for things to agree with as well as things to challenge.
  •  Learn by being curious: rather than trying to “fix” anything, try to find out more.  
  • Listen without interrupting the speaker: write down your questions or leave them until later. 
  •  Pay attention to patterns and things you do not hear being said. 
  • Understand what you intend to learn when you listen: What do you intend to do with the information you receive?

 One rule is that each person must have a chance to speak once before anyone else is allowed to speak again.

The second rule is for someone to answer any question they ask before anyone else may reply. 

Make sure the rules are followed by identifying a captain.

Benefits of active listening

A number of studies have shown active listening to be associated with positive outcomes in many industries, fields, relations, and personally. Here is the list of benefits of being an active listener.

  • Studies of romantic couples’ argumentation have demonstrated that active listening leads to more effective problem solving, relationship stability and perceived resolvability of problems.
  • In Business, customers’ ratings of a salesperson’s listening abilities were positively correlated with their salespeople’s reported engagements in active listening.
  • Researchers in Japan found that supervisors performing active listening exercises with employees increase employees’ productivity and satisfaction.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage negotiators who possess expertise in negotiation use paraphrase, reflect, and other active listening behaviors during role play exercises much more than novice negotiators.
  • On active empathetic listening, scale studies show that the measures of social influence, social expression, emotional sensitivity, and social control appear to be linked to a wide array of positive outcomes, including the ability to interact effectively and maintain meaningful relationships.

Barriers to active listening

  •  Inadequate language base: Despite one’s best efforts to fully understand a speaker, an insufficient language background will hinder learning a new subject. Poor language proficiency, a lack of technical vocabulary, and fear of confrontation can prove a hardship.
  •  Partial Listening: Multitasking and being distracted easily are symptoms of partial listening.  For instance, many people fail to pay full attention to what is being said during a phone conversation because their minds are distracted. They may flip through a book or surf the internet, thus wasting time.
  • Disinterestedness: The listener may feel disinterested in the subject, so during a conversation, the listener may speak about other topics that are of interest to him. Students, for example, may remember a pop song more easily than an author’s name.
  • Pre-judging the Speaker/the Speech: The listener can be influenced either positively or negatively by looking at the speaker’s appearance, dress, and mannerisms. An affront can be sustained by the listener’s preferences for gender and color. The status of the speaker might also affect one’s thinking.
  • Negativity towards the Speaker: Poor listening is a consequence of emotionally, mentally, and psychologically numb listeners. If the listeners dislike the speaker and do not approve of his/her ideas, distorted and negative messages will be reconstructed.
  • Diffidence : A demoralized listener tends to underestimate his/her own abilities to comprehend what’s being said. Therefore, they focus solely on the speech and miss the point. New students and participants at conferences tend to fall into this kind of self-diffidence.
  • Over-enthusiasm/Intolerance: Listeners sometimes take the speaker too literally and are overly enthusiastic and supplant his/her ideas with their own. This generally results from the listener becoming impatient with the speaker for his/her slowness in communicating.
  • Deep-rooted beliefs: Often, people become closed-minded because of deep-rooted beliefs and convictions instilled in them by society and culture. These socio-culturally embedded beliefs and convictions act as barriers against new thoughts and fresh ideas



Center for Teaching and Learning Stanford University, Stanford CA

Business Tutsplus What is active listening article published on Dec 2018

International journal of listening. TandFonline published article Jan 2014.

NPTEL Communication skills. IIT Kanpur.

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Experienced Psychology and philosophy Writer, self-help and relationship Coach and thought influencer. He has 7 years of experience in Personal development industry. His expertise as a self-help and relationship Coach has been highlighted through his articles in medium and substack to name a few. To be updated with his latest work, connect with him by following his social media accounts.

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