What Is Active Listening And How Is It A Helpful Skill?

What does ‘active listening’ mean?

Active listening means paying full attention in a conversation and trying to completely understand the perspective of the other person. Even though this might sound simple, it is harder to do than you might imagine. Trying to be an active listener can build trust and understanding in relationships. It can also help resolve conflicts.

Being a listener

When someone is talking to you, it is easy to get distracted by your own feelings and your own reaction to their words, or to start planning your response in your head. You might find that you get angry or start to judge people if you disagree with what they are saying. However, this can lead to misunderstandings.

When can active listening be helpful?

Active listening is a skill that can help you in many situations in life.

For example, if a family or friend confides in you about a problem, through active listening you can make them feel heard and understood. You can show them that you care and that you are interested in learning more about how they feel. This can strengthen your relationship by creating a mutual feeling of trust and safety. Supportive, trusting relationships can last a lifetime.

Another time that active listening could be useful is during a disagreement. It is easy to become angry or interrupt the other person in order to defend your own opinion. However, if you try to take a step back and listen carefully to their idea first, you might find that you can understand why they have come to this conclusion. If you start off by actively listening to them, it is more likely that they will treat you with the same respect. This means that you might be able to resolve the problem together.

How can you practice active listening?

Keep an open mind – Try to treat a conversation as a chance to learn something or get to know people better rather than a way to make your own opinion heard. This way, you might find that you can understand their point of view more fully.
Try to take a step back from your own opinions and natural reactions to their words and instead try to imagine their situation and how they feel. This can help you to avoid judging the other person too quickly.

Give them your full attention – Try to avoid multitasking, such as by using your phone or reading a newspaper, during a conversation. Not only is this often considered more polite, but it is also very distracting and can stop you from listening to the other person. 

Ask leading questions – Leading questions are questions that encourage an answer longer than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. This can make people feel more free to respond honestly, without you telling them how you think they should respond. For example, instead of asking ‘Do you feel sad about this?’, you could try asking ‘How does this make you feel?’. This way, the other person might feel comfortable giving a longer, fuller answer, helping you to understand their feelings better.

Body language – Body language means how you express yourself using your body. This can be either deliberate gestures or unconscious movements and can reveal a lot about what you or someone else is thinking. For example, nodding, asking questions and being patient can allow someone else the space they need to express themselves and encourage them to trust you.


Active listening skills can be beneficial in many different situations. Trying your best to listen with an open mind, avoid distractions and fully understand the other person can help to strengthen your relationships. If you try out some of the tips above, you might find that people trust you with more information, or that you have the skills to resolve conflicts more efficiently.


Picture Credit:New York Times



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