What Are Active Listening Skills? (Definition and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 November 2022

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Active listening is one of the most critical skills in effective communication. Having the ability to listen actively can help you find success in any career. It can help you build and maintain relationships, solve problems, improve processes and retain information, such as instructions, procedures and expectations. In this article, we will discuss active listening skills, explore some examples and learn the three A's of active listening.

What are active listening skills?

Active listening refers to your ability to completely focus on a speaker, understand their message and respond carefully. Unlike passive listening, which refers to the act of listening to a speaker without understanding their message, active listening can ensure you can engage and later retain specific details without the need to repeat the information.

An active listener usually uses verbal and non-verbal communication techniques to show and keep their attention on the speaker. This can support your ability to focus and help show the speaker that you are focusing and engaging. Instead of thinking about and mentally rehearsing what you would say when the speaker ends their message, an active listener carefully considers the speaker's words and commits the information to memory.

Related: How To Improve Your Listening Skills (With Tips)

What are examples of active listening?

Whether you are looking for a new job opportunity, striving to get a promotion or working to improve in your current position, improving your active listening skills can help you succeed. Much like conflict resolution and critical thinking, active listening skills can help increase your value as an employee. Here are several examples of being an active listener:

Verbal active listening

Verbal active listening skills refer to your ability to keep the conversation going. These skills allow you to make the speaker feel heard. It can encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts fully. Here are some examples of verbal active listening skills:

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing involves summarising the key points of the speaker's message to show them that you fully understand their message. This can also give the speaker a chance to expand their message or clarify confusing information. For example, you can say something like, "So what you are saying is, the content management system you are currently using no longer meets the technical needs of your team, as it doesn't support large video files. Is that correct?"

Asking open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that require a speaker to answer in their own words. This means they have to provide more information than a simple yes or no answer. Asking questions to the speaker and encouraging them to share additional information ensures you understand them accurately. For example, you can say, "You're definitely right, the onboarding process could use some updating. What changes would you like to apply to the process over the next three months?"

Related: How To Respond In an Interview to "Do You Have Any Questions?"

Asking specific probing questions

Asking direct questions can help you encourage the speaker to provide more details about the information they are sharing. It can also narrow down a broad topic or subject. For example, you can say something like, "So, tell me more information about your current workload. Which do you think is the most time-consuming among the projects you're working on?"

Using short verbal affirmations

Saying short, positive statements can make the speaker feel more comfortable and show you are engaged in the conversation and able to process the information they are sharing. Saying small verbal affirmations can help you continue the conversation without interrupting the speaker. For example, you can say things such as "I totally agree with you", "Yes, that makes sense", and "I understand".

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

Showing empathy

Showing empathy involves making sure the speaker understands you can recognise their feelings. When you share your compassion instead of just feeling it, you can connect with the speaker and start building mutual trust. For example, you can say, "I'm very sorry you are experiencing this problem. Let us figure out some ways I can help."

Sharing similar experiences

Discussing comparable solutions can show the speaker you have understood their message successfully. It can also help in building a rapport with them. If the speaker has shared a problem, giving your input on how you solved the same issue previously can be valuable to others. For example, you can say, "I had a hard time getting started with this programme, too. However, it gets much easier. After about a month, I felt completely comfortable using all the features."

Recalling previously shared information

Recalling information means remembering ideas, key concepts or other important points that the speaker has shared with you in the past. Recalling previously shared information can show you are not only listening to what the speaker is currently saying, but also you can remember information and retain specific details. For example, you can say, "Yesterday you mentioned hiring a more senior manager to help with this account, and I believe that is a great idea".

Non-verbal active listening

Non-verbal active listening skills refer to your ability to provide feedback through non-verbal cues. By providing this feedback, the speaker may feel more at ease and communicate more honestly, openly and easily. Here are some examples of non-verbal active listening skills:

Nodding

Giving the speaker some simple nods can demonstrate that you understand their message. A nod can be a supportive, helpful cue. It doesn't necessarily mean that you agree with what the speaker is saying, but it shows that you can comprehend the meaning of the information they have shared.

Related: Body Language Tips for a Job Interview

Smiling

Like giving a nod, giving a small smile can encourage the speaker to continue. Unlike a nod, however, it can mean that you agree with their message or you are pleased about what they have to say. A smile can be a substitute for a short verbal affirmation. It's powerful enough to diffuse tension and make the speaker feel comfortable.

Avoiding distracted moments

Being still can communicate focus. You can do this by trying to avoid movements such as tapping or doodling with a pen, audibly sighing or glancing at your phone or watch. It's important to avoid exchanging any forms of communication with others while listening to the speaker. This can help prevent the speaker from getting frustrated or uncomfortable.

Mirroring

Mirroring refers to the act of mimicking the facial expressions of the speaker. People often use it to show agreement and sympathy for the speaker's message. For example, a friend or family member who just got a job may share the news with you with an exhilarated look on their face. To show your support as a friend, your natural reaction would be to smile, jump and look excited, too.

What are the three A's of active listening?

Listening actively is about self-awareness. It's important to pay attention to whether or not you're actively engaging, passively listening or only hearing. Active listening requires focus or concentration. Active listening has three primary elements. These include the three A's:

Attitude

Attitude refers to a feeling of emotion or mental position regarding a state or fact. This has a lot to do with how you listen when someone is speaking. If you have an attitude that each person deserves respect when being listened to, you can be a better participant and get more out of what you're listening to. An individual usually can learn something from others and if you have an attitude that this is true, then you can be a better listener and provide the speaker with more attention and respect.

Having a positive attitude is perhaps the first step in having excellent listening skills. For instance, if you're going into a seminar or lecture, it's important to enter the room assuming it's going to be engaging, instead of assuming it's going to be boring. Get into the room with an open mind so you can listen to the speaker.

Related: Important Soft Skills Employers in Hong Kong Look For

Attention

To listen to what an individual is saying, it's important to pay close attention. For many people, however, that may be easier said than done. Some individuals might have a very short attention span, which causes them to get bored or distracted easily. Others may have difficulty paying attention, as they have difficulty hearing and focusing or they tend to daydream.

If you have the ability to pay attention, it can make effective listening much easier. There are a few steps you can take to improve your ability to pay attention, including reading and playing memory games. You can also play observation games in which you look at a photo for about 60 seconds and then turn away and remember as much about the photo as you can. Even doing regular meditation can help you improve your ability to pay attention or focus.

Adjustment

Instead of assuming the speaker's intentions or guiding the conversation in one direction or discussing a specific topic, adjustment can help you adapt to what's happening. The more you can adapt to where an individual is taking the conversation, the better listener you can be.

If you can adjust to where a speaker is going, you can receive information with a more open mind. This takes you back to the first of the three elements of active listening, which is attitude. Keep in mind that having an open mind can help you adjust to what the speaker is saying and can help you view a change with a more positive outlook.

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