Active listening

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Active listening is a communication technique used in counselling, training and conflict resolution, which requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.[citation needed]


Comprehension is "shared meaning between parties in a communication transaction".[1] This is the first step in the listening process.[citation needed] The second challenge is being able to discern breaks between discernible words, or speech segmentation.[1] This becomes significantly more difficult with an unfamiliar language because the speech sounds blend together into a continuous jumble.[citation needed]


This is the second step in the listening process.[citation needed] Memory is essential to the listening process because the information we retain when involved in the listening process is how we create meaning from words.[citation needed] We depend on our memory to fill in the blanks when we're listening.[citation needed] Because everyone has different memories, the speaker and the listener may attach different meanings to the same statement.[citation needed] However, our memories are fallible and we can't remember everything that we've ever listened to.[citation needed] There are many reasons why we forget some information that we've received.[citation needed] The first is cramming.[citation needed] When you cram there is a lot of information entered into your short term memory.[citation needed] Shortly after cramming, when you don't need the information anymore, it is purged from your brain before it can be transferred into your long term memory.[2] The second reason is that you aren't paying attention when you receive the information.[citation needed] Alternatively, when you receive the information you may not attach importance to it, so it loses its meaning.[citation needed] A fourth reason is at the time the information was received you lacked motivation to listen carefully to better remember it.[1] Using information immediately after receiving it enhances information retention and lessens the forgetting curve (the rate at which we no longer retain information in our memory).[3] Retention is lessened when we engage in mindless listening, where little effort is made to listen to a speaker's message. Mindful listening is active listening.[citation needed]


Listening is an interaction between speaker and listener.[citation needed] It adds action to a normally passive process.[citation needed]


Active listening involves the listener observing the speaker's behavior and body language.[citation needed] Having the ability to interpret a person's body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker's message.[4] Having heard, the listener may then paraphrase the speaker's words. It is important to note that the listener is not necessarily agreeing with the speaker—simply stating what was said.

Individuals in conflict often contradict each other.[citation needed] Ambushing occurs when one listens to someone else's argument for its weaknesses and ignore its strengths.[1] This may include a distortion of the speaker’s argument to gain a competitive advantage. On the other hand, if one finds that the other party understands, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created.[5]

In the book Leader Effectiveness Training, Thomas Gordon, who coined the term "active listening,"[6] states "Active listening is certainly not complex. Listeners need only restate, in their own language, their impression of the expression of the sender. ... Still, learning to do Active Listening well is a rather difficult task ..."[7]


Active listening is used in a wide variety of situations, including public interest advocacy, community organizing, tutoring,[8] medical workers talking to patients,[9] HIV counseling,[10] helping suicidal persons,[11] management,[12] counseling[citation needed] and journalistic[citation needed] settings. In groups it may aid in reaching consensus.[citation needed] It may also be used in casual conversation or small talk to build understanding, though this can be interpreted as condescending.[citation needed]

A listener can use several degrees of active listening, each resulting in a different quality of communication.[citation needed]

The proper use of active listening results in getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict, and building trust.[13] In a medical context, benefits may include increased patient satisfaction,[9] improved cross-cultural communication,[14] improved outcomes,[9] or decreased litigation.[15]

Active listening can be lifted by the active listening observation scale.[16]

Barriers to active listening[edit]

Such barriers include distractions, trigger words, vocabulary, and limited attention span.[17]

Listening barriers may be psychological (e.g. emotions) or physical (e.g. noise and visual distraction).[citation needed]

Shift response[edit]

The first of these is the shift response which is the general tendency in a conversation to affix the attention to you.[citation needed] This is a type of conversational narcissism; the tendency of listeners to turn the topic of conversations to themselves without showing sustained interest in others listening.[18] A support response is the opposite of a shift response; it is an attention giving method and a cooperative effort to focus the conversational attention on the other person. Instead of being me-oriented like shift response, it is we-oriented.[19] It is the response most likely to be used by a competent communicator[1]

Overcoming listening barriers[edit]

To use the active listening technique to improve interpersonal communication, one puts personal emotions aside during the conversation, asks questions and paraphrases back to the speaker to clarify understanding, and one also tries to overcome all types of environment distractions.[citation needed] Judging or arguing prematurely is a result of holding onto a strict personal opinion.[20] This hinders the ability to be able to listen closely to what is being said.[citation needed] Eye contact and appropriate body languages are seen as important components to active listening.[citation needed] The stress and intonation may also keep them active and away from distractions.[citation needed]

Misconceptions about listening[edit]

There are several misconceptions about listening.[citation needed] We have no control over what we hear.[citation needed] Listening on the other hand is an active process that constructs meaning from both verbal and nonverbal messages.[1]

Active listening in music[edit]

Active Listening has been developed as a concept in music and technology by François Pachet, researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratory - Paris. Active listening in music refers to the idea that listeners can be given some degree of control on the music they listen to, by means of technological applications mainly based on artificial intelligence and information theory techniques, by opposition to traditional listening, in which the musical media is played passively by some neutral device [21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f In the Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. pp. 157–166. ISBN 0-19-533630-5. OCLC 276930486. 
  2. ^ Wurman, R. (1989). Information anxiety. New York: Doubleday. 
  3. ^ Bahrick HP (March 1984). "Semantic memory content in permastore: fifty years of memory for Spanish learned in school". J Exp Psychol Gen 113 (1): 1–29. PMID 6242406. 
  4. ^ Atwater, Eastwood (1981). I Hear You. Prentice-Hall. p. 83. ISBN 0-13-450684-7. 
  5. ^ Fisher, Roger; Ury, William (2012). Getting to Yes. Random House. 
  6. ^ Segal, Morley (1997). Points of influence: a guide to using personality theory at work. Jossey-Bass. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-7879-0260-5. 
  7. ^ Gordon, Thomas (1977). Leader Effectiveness Training. New York: Wyden books. p. 57. ISBN 0-399-12888-3. 
  8. ^ Maudsley G (March 1999). "Roles and responsibilities of the problem based learning tutor in the undergraduate medical curriculum". BMJ 318 (7184): 657–61. PMC 1115096. PMID 10066213. 
  9. ^ a b c Lang F, Floyd MR, Beine KL (2000). "Clues to patients' explanations and concerns about their illnesses. A call for active listening". Arch Fam Med 9 (3): 222–7. doi:10.1001/archfami.9.3.222. PMID 10728107. 
  10. ^ Baxter P, Campbell T. (August 7–12, 1994). "HIV counselling skills used by health care workers in Zambia (abstract no. PD0743)". Int Conf AIDS 10 (390). 
  11. ^ Laflamme G (1996). "[Helping suicidal persons by active listening]". Infirm Que (in French) 3 (4): 35. PMID 9147668. 
  12. ^ Mineyama S, Tsutsumi A, Takao S, Nishiuchi K, Kawakami N (2007). "Supervisors' attitudes and skills for active listening with regard to working conditions and psychological stress reactions among subordinate workers". J Occup Health 49 (2): 81–7. doi:10.1539/joh.49.81. PMID 17429164. 
  13. ^ "Active Listening". Inspiration. White Dove Books. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Davidhizar R (2004). "Listening—a nursing strategy to transcend culture". J Pract Nurs 54 (2): 22–4; quiz 26–7. PMID 15460343. 
  15. ^ Robertson K (2005). "Active listening: more than just paying attention". Aust Fam Physician 34 (12): 1053–5. PMID 16333490. 
  16. ^ Fassaert T, van Dulmen S, Schellevis F, Bensing J (2007). "Active listening in medical consultations: development of the Active Listening Observation Scale (ALOS-global)". Patient Educ Couns 68 (3): 258–64. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2007.06.011. PMID 17689042. 
  17. ^ Reed, Warren H. (1985). Positive listening: learning to hear what people are really saying. New York: F. Watts. ISBN 0-531-09583-5. 
  18. ^ Derber, C. (1979). The pursuit of attention: Power and individualism in everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 5. 
  19. ^ Vangelisti, A.; Knapp, M.; Daly, J. (1990). "Conversational narcissism". Communication Monographs (57): 251–274. 
  20. ^ Lama, Dalai. "Top 3 Barriers to Effective Listening". People Communicating. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  21. ^ François Pachet The Future of Content is in Ourselves. The Future of Content is in Ourselves. In M. Tokoro, editor, Open System Science, pages 133-158, IOS Press. 2010.
  22. ^ François Pachet Active Listening: What is in the Air?.In Miranda, E., editor, Musica y Nuevas Tecnologias: Perspectivas para el Siglo XXI, L'Angelot. 1999.
  23. ^ François Pachet Constraints for Multimedia Applications. Proceedings of PACLP 1999, London, March 1999. The Practical Application Company.

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