The Complete Guide to Active Listening

Active listeners tend to make more money, have better relationships and enjoy relatively better overall well-being. 


Because active listening helps you pick on communication cues most other people miss.

Salespeople rely on communication to identify a customer’s real needs and close the deal.

A salesperson using active listening notices the small but critical verbal and non-verbal cues the customer give off. She uses these cues to tweak her sales pitch on the fly.

Contrast that to a salesperson who does not use active listening and tries to ram their product sale through, despite the obvious cold reception.

One closes the deal—the other walks away with nothing. Worse still, they perpetuate the traditional myths about salespeople.

Today we’ll guide you step-by-step through how to become a master active listener. This is also covered in our assertiveness skills training!

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is a form of listening that emphasizes engagement and positive interactions.

An active listener listens attentively when some else speaks, it means really paying attention carefully. They paraphrase and reflect on what is said, withholding any judgement or advice.

Active listening lets you pick on non-verbal cues. Also when you listen carefully without interrupting it makes the other person feel heard.

Active listening involves:

● Paying close attention to the other person.

● Reflecting on what’s said (or unsaid).

● Observing verbal and non-verbal cues.

● Minimizing distractions and avoiding interruptions.

● Using a mixture of closed and open-ended questions.

● Asking questions and clarifying

● Withholding judgement and unsolicited advice

How Is Active Listening Different?

The listening process has five main stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding.

In “regular” or passive listening, people breeze through all five stages, leading to complete misunderstanding at worst.

Active listening emphasizes focusing on what the other person is saying. It doesn’t mean that you can’t speak but generally when you do it will be to acknowledge what they’ve just said, to clarify something or to give them feedback. 

The Differences Between Active And Passive Listening

Basis For Comparison Active Listening Passive Listening
What is it? Focused, engaged listening Unfocused, impatient listening
Listener’s role Actively involved. Shows interest with questions and body language. Passive. Shows few or no signs of interests with questions or body language.
Communication Two-way and responsive to other person’s comments / points One-way with little reaction to other person’s comments / points
Feedback & questions Yes – Large part of the conversation No – Little or no feedback
Listeners non-verbal cues Shows interest with facial expressions, gestures and body posture Show lack of interest by looking at phone / elsewhere, interrupting and other signs of boredom
Responses Considered and show listener has understood what has been said Tend to not follow 100% from the points just made


The Advantages Of Active Listening

Most people spend around 40% of their time listening. Good active listening skills will improve the quality of those interactions.

The benefits of active listening skills extend beyond mere day-to-day interactions.

Active listening:

● Builds rapport and good relations while cementing trust. 

● Fosters collaboration and reduces the need for conflict resolution

● Minimizes communication gaps, errors and mistakes

● Increases knowledge and understanding of diverse topics

● Increases your ability to identify and solve problems quickly

● Builds empathy and enhances emotional intelligence and influencing skills

How Do I Know If I’m An Active Listener?

Do you find yourself listening intently, asking probing questions or noticing non-verbal cues, like facial expressions and the posture of the other person? If so, you are probably an active listener. 

Active listeners also recap, paraphrase, summarize and tend not to think about responses when the other person is speaking.

By recapping, for example, active listeners ensure that both parties are on the same page, even on seemingly agreeable points.

Unlike passive listeners, active listeners allow the speaker to finish before responding. They don’t just hear the words; they listen and observe to understand the context, enabling them to give considered responses.

Patience and empathy are other hallmarks of the active listening process.

Examples Of Active Listening

Here is an example of a conversation that emphasises the active listening process:

Conversation #1

Sophia: “I’m stressed. I had a big fight with my sister, and now we’re not on speaking terms. I’m upset and not sure what to do.”

Charlotte: “Oh I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me more, what happened?

Sophia: ‘Well, we argued about the preparations for my upcoming wedding. She thinks I’m nuts for choosing the florist I did.”

Charlotte: “That’s tough. You must feel angry that you’re not speaking because of it.”

Sophia: “Very angry. She assumed I’d go with her florist friend, but I didn’t like her work. This is my big day, and it’s like she doesn’t see my perspective at all.”

Charlotte: “That’s too bad. How did it make you feel?”

Sophia: “Frustrated, really frustrated. The wedding is soon, and I hope she can support me on this one. I don’t know how to get her on board.”

Charlotte: “Sounds pretty complicated. You should probably take a bit of time to think things through.”

Sophia: “Yes, definitely. Thanks for listening. With the stress I am under, I just really needed to vent and get that off my chest.”

In the above conversation, Charlotte has listened to Sophia and encourage her to tell her more about the situation.

She hasn’t dived in with an opinion, or a suggested solution, but has instead asked questions and asked open questions encouraging Sophia to say more.

Below are other examples statements and questions used with active listening:

●     Verbal affirmation – “I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me.”

●     Open-ended questions – “I understand you’re not happy with your new role here. What can we do to improve it?”

●     Asking specific questions – “How many off-days did you take during the first quarter of this year?”

●     Showing concern – “I know you’re going through some difficult challenges. I’m here to help.”

●     Waiting to respond – “Tell me more about your proposal to cut our spending.”

●     Establishing rapport – “Your resume was impressive. I was amazed by how you helped grow your employer’s revenue.”

●     Relating similar situations – “I was in a similar situation when I lost my job during the early days of the pandemic.”

Famous People Who Were Great Active Listeners

Winston Churchill – Former UK Prime Minister

He said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Larry King – TV talk show host

He said: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Robert Baden-Powell, first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts Association

He said: “If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talking.”

8 Ways To Become A Better Active Listener

Lets look at some ways to develop your active listening

1. Limit distractions. 

Active listening has taken a hit in the increasingly connected world we live in. People try to split their attention between the speaker and their screens but that means they don’t concentrate properly.

Silence distractions and give the other person your undivided attention. Notice their posture, tone of voice, and other non-verbal cues.

2. Let the silence roll. 

Most passive listeners are uncomfortable with silent moments in conversations.

To become a better active listener, embrace these moments of silence. You don’t always have to comment or reply. Use breaks in the conversation to collect your thoughts, and also let the other person collect theirs.

3. Pay attention to what is being said, not your planned response. 

Can you repeat the last statement that was made? Your goal should be to be able to repeat the last statement that was made at all times. That will keep your mind and full attention on the conversation.

4. Pay attention to non-verbal cues.

The majority of communication is non-verbal. Think about the impact that eye contact can make.

Even on the phone, you can learn a great deal about a person’s emotional state just from their tone of voice. Take time to notice any cues in conversation in the expression of the speaker’s eyes, their posture etc. 

Remember that the words you hear convey only a fraction of the message.

5. Show that you’re listening. 

Use gestures and body language to show that you’re listening and engaged in the conversation.

● Smile, frown, squint eyes and use other facial expressions.

● Adopt an open posture to show that you’re interested.

● Encourage the speaker to go on with any verbal comments like “uh-huh.”

● Nod occasionally

For more on communication, check out our communication statistics here!

6. Paraphrase and provide feedback. 

Try to understand the message without letting your assumptions or judgement cloud things by asking questions. 


● “Sounds like you are saying…”

● “What I’m hearing is…”

● “What do you mean when you say…”

7. Defer judgement and advice. 

Let the other person speak without interruptions.

Allow them to finish making their points before asking questions or interjecting. Also, don’t interrupt with counter ideas.

8. Encourage others to suggest ideas or solutions before giving yours. 

Most people already have a workable solution in mind before they state their problem.

They often want a little space in the conversation to work through them though. Give them that opportunity. In any discussion, aim to do more listening (80%) and less talking (20%).


Active listening is an incredibly valuable skill. Whether you’re towards the start of the end of your career it will benefit you.

Give it a go in the next conversation you have. Try one of the active listening techniques above or just try to withhold judgement and draw the other person out, you’ll see the benefits immediately in how they react to you which will show you how much this can help.

Image Source: Pexels

For more on this topic, check out our assertiveness tips for managers here.

About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.