10 Tips to Effective & Active Listening Skills

Do you ever need someone to listen to you? Our mentors are available.

Listening makes our loved ones feel worthy, appreciated, interesting, and respected. Ordinary conversations emerge on a deeper level, as do our relationships. When we listen, we foster the skill in others by acting as a model for positive and effective communication.

In our love relationships, greater communication brings greater intimacy. Parents listening to their kids helps build their self-esteem. In the business world, listening saves time and money by preventing misunderstandings. And we always learn more when we listen than when we talk.

Listening skills fuel our social, emotional and professional success, and studies prove that listening is a skill we can learn.

The Technique. Active listening is really an extension of the Golden Rule. To know how to listen to someone else, think about how you would want to be listened to.

While the ideas are largely intuitive, it might take some practice to develop (or re-develop) the skills. Here’s what good listeners know — and you should, too:

1. Face the speaker. Sit up straight or lean forward slightly to show your attentiveness through body language.

2. Maintain eye contact, to the degree that you all remain comfortable.

3. Minimize external distractions. Turn off the TV. Put down your book or magazine, and ask the speaker and other listeners to do the same.

4. Respond appropriately to show that you understand. Murmur (“uh-huh” and “um-hmm”) and nod. Raise your eyebrows. Say words such as “Really,” “Interesting,” as well as more direct prompts: “What did you do then?” and “What did she say?”

5. Focus solely on what the speaker is saying. Try not to think about what you are going to say next. The conversation will follow a logical flow after the speaker makes her point.

6. Minimize internal distractions. If your own thoughts keep horning in, simply let them go and continuously re-focus your attention on the speaker, much as you would during meditation.

7. Keep an open mind. Wait until the speaker is finished before deciding that you disagree. Try not to make assumptions about what the speaker is thinking.

devo-interact-icon-42x42Have you tried and tried but your best is still not good enough? Don’t know what to do next? Talk to a mentor.

8. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they just need to talk it out.

9. Even if the speaker is launching a complaint against you, wait until they finish to defend yourself. The speaker will feel as though their point had been made. They won’t feel the need to repeat it, and you’ll know the whole argument before you respond. Research shows that, on average, we can hear four times faster than we can talk, so we have the ability to sort ideas as they come in…and be ready for more.

10. Engage yourself. Ask questions for clarification, but, once again, wait until the speaker has finished. That way, you won’t interrupt their train of thought. After you ask questions, paraphrase their point to make sure you didn’t misunderstand. Start with: “So you’re saying…”

As you work on developing your listening skills, you may feel a bit panicky when there is a natural pause in the conversation. What should you say next? Learn to settle into the silence and use it to better understand all points of view.

Ironically, as your listening skills improve, so will your aptitude for conversation. A friend of my partner once complimented me on my conversational skills. I hadn’t said more than four words, but I had listened to him for 25 minutes.

Keep your relationship growing:

4 Keys to better communication
Help! He makes no sense!
Questions? Ask a marriage mentor (Tell me more about mentoring.)


144 thoughts on “10 Tips to Effective & Active Listening Skills

  1. KateKate

    It’s great that we can each learn something from one another, applying wise advice to our daily lives can make a wonderful difference little by little!

  2. D W

    A very good article that I hope to put into practice as I’m constantly told “that my hearing is okay, it’s that I just don’t listen” Hopefully these tips will help me clear up some issues. On a side note, I find it hard to know when to be listening. Often I hear “Are you listening to me?” or “Will you listen to him?” usually when I’m in the middle of trying to get ready for work or even just during downtime. To those of you who you want to be listened too, a polite “Can we talk?” or some other gentle means of getting the person’s attention who you want to listen to you would be nice rather than a angry question. Thanks in advance for listening to my rant.

  3. Pauline

    I found the article very timely, as I am going to be part of a new group to be set up at my church concerning debt councelling.
    I will be part of the team who will be the *listening ear*. No:8 was pertinant to me as I know I have a habit of doing just that…I think I.m being helpful, when obviously I am not.This is very much Gods timing , as the team is only now being put together. Thankyou for the tips..I will certainly be putting them into pracitice.

  4. shelley andersonshelley anderson

    I am good at listening to others speak as I help out a senoir in listening to her and then responding when the opportune time comes.

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  6. kayera brian

    I found listening to be good to the extent that i managed to solve some conflicts between my colleague.

  7. Sarah

    I’m at such a loss right now. My husband keeps telling me that I never listen to him. I’m not sure if I just can’t focus onto him completely with our 9 month old daughter or what the problem is. But it’s really affecting our marriage and I just want him and us to be happy.:(

  8. Claire ColvinClaire Colvin

    Hi Sarah, It is very common for couples to have communication issues in the months following the birth of a child. There’s an article called, “New Baby, Distant Husband” that I’d encourage you to read. In it the author talks about ways that a new baby can cause distance between spouses and what you can do about it. There are two really GOOD things happening in your situation right now. 1. You want to make this work and 2. Your husband came to you and told you what the issue is. This is really, really positive. You have an opportunity to work together to fix this.

    When was the last time you and your husband went out on a date without the baby? It is really hard to focus on anyone when there’s an infant – especially if your child isn’t sleeping well, or is a baby that really likes to be held etc. You and your husband need some time without the baby. Is there a relative nearby who could babysit for a couple of hours? Is there a friend who could? I know it’s hard to think about leaving the baby, but you need this time even if it’s just the hour or two between feedings. Get someone to watch the baby, go to a different location (if the baby is in the next room you’ll react if he or she cries) and spend some time talking to your husband. Go for coffee, go for a walk or a drive. Ask him what he would like to do.

    Remember too that there has been a big huge change in your relationship. There is a whole new person in the family now and that is an adjustment. Listen to each other. If you find that after really focussing and paying attention you’re still not connecting well, make an appointment to see a counsellor for some advice. Sometimes we think that counselling is only for marriages that are in trouble but that’s far from the truth. We know that if we go to the dentist twice a year, even if it doesn’t hurt, we can keep our teeth healthy and often avoid painful problems. It’s similar with a relationship as important as a marriage. A third party can often help see the root of an issue and can give you tools and exercises to make a great marriage even better. Never be afraid of counselling. It’s incredibly healthy.

    If you have more questions, feel free to write back. And congratulations on that baby!

  9. Sarah

    Thank you so much! Ya we’ve actually done pretty well with making sure we have our time and stuff:) and yes we did counseling for about three months last year because we have actually had a rough marriage with alot of issues. And it did help for a while! But with him being military it’s hard to keep a schedule for appointments with his training. I want nothing more than to be a. Good mother to our little girl and have a good relationship with my husband.. I’m just concerned the problem is me now on the little things. And we’ve made it through a lot of huge problems. I don’t want us to fall apart over the little ones. I really appreciate you responding. :)

  10. B. MillerBrenda Miller

    Sarah, it sounds like you are working really hard on your relationship with your husband, as well as doing your very best to be a wonderful mother to your beautiful new baby girl. If your husband continues to believe you are not listening to him, perhaps it may help to ask him what would help him to know that you are listening, and to ask him specifically what signals you are sending him that make him think you are not hearing him when he shares himself with you. As long as he knows you love him and truly want to be a good listener and desire to do all you can to grow in this area of your communication, hopefully he will be willing to give his all to your marriage and you will grow ever closer in the bond of Christ’s wonderful love.

    I join with Claire in congratulating you on your new baby girl, Sarah, and I pray that you and your husband are deeply blessed in every area of your marriage and family life.

  11. kayera Brian

    Throughout the semester i managed to listen to my lecturers very well and i was able to pass mi final exams.I continue to request all mi bros $ sis to at least take some notes as they listen coz it is very good 4 remembrance.I wish u well all.

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  17. Deborah

    I had a very dear friend who was a listener. In the whole of my life, I never had anyone listen as she did. When one listens, it truly brings such significance acceptance, and peace to the speaker. A rare powerful gift, one worth perfecting.

  18. Doris BeckD. Beck

    Sharon, it’s great that you are learning to listen! These tips are excellent!

    Deborah, you are so right, a good listener is truly a rare and power gift!

    Blessings to you both!

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  22. SusanSusan

    Yes Lacey, I agree with you. This is an excellent article. If parents are not an active listeners then their children feel neglected. Same is the case with husband or wife. Right Lacey?

  23. Talib

    What about saying okay after each pause from the side of speaker?Does it show active listening??

  24. ChrisChris Landwerlen

    Sarah…so many times the birth of a baby can bring out the babiness in a man. sad but true, we men are so many times the ones still in diapers spiritually speaking. your husband should be the one listening to you!! you are the one taking care of this child with apparently not enough support so please do not condemn yourself. the problem here is with your husband that instead of being a strong pillar you can lean on as the church leans on christ, he is trying to lean on you. . .jesus come and help this husband to be strong in you and not look to his wife for strength knowing that we have an open heaven and an open ear from you every day of our lives. amen. . .blessings Sarah!

  25. Trish HicksTrish Hicks

    I have been pondering and pondering for awhile now on how to reply to this one.When growing up the listening skills I knew of was fear of getting in trouble which is what stirred me to do what I was told.It is so very odd now. Because when the Lord Jesus Christ tells me to do something, and if its something i either am afraid to do or don’t want to do, I have the fear of God but its not the same.Its different kind of fear I think its because the consequences are different. With the Lord the consequences will really get your attention. With my parents they would just ground me or take something away.Plus I never wanted to make my parents upset either.But when the Lord chastises.The consequences can make your life really hard to bear.But plus again I try to do something he asks and I am afraid and don’t want to don’t ever want to make the Lord unhappy also.So i pray about it sometimes I will check with other Godly men and women in the church to pray with me to find out some confirmation if it is really exactly what the Lord might be saying to do.I will always look for confirmation no matter what it is.
    But I don’t have a list of skills.That is my only suggestion of a skill for listening,look for confirmation to see if it is indeed the Lord. If it does come from the Lord in the first place.To try to realize if it is something of God,or the enemy.Because I do not to listen to the enemy.
    However if its a mother or Father I never did this but I would now if I had it to do all over again, I would now attempt to try and show the child if old enough where it saids in the bible about obedience to parents, and the consequences I would have if he or she did not obey.We are given parents to learn how to do all that to learn how it is to use all those skills and literally get through this cruel and evil world.
    I do hope i have been able to answer something of what one was looking for.

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  27. Barbara AlpertBarbara Alpert

    Hi Trish, thank you for sharing with our readers. Are you aware that one role the Holy Spirit plays in the lives of Followers of the Lord is the Spirit of Discernment? When you believe that God is speaking to your heart about a certain thing to do or not to do ask the Holy Spirit within you for wisdom, clarity and discernment. God is so loving and He does not want to see His children be mislead or misguided. Even if we do make a wrong decision He is there to forgive us of such mistake and get us back on track…heading in the right direction He desires. As far as seeking others in church just make certain that what others are telling you is in line with God’s word. As far as looking for “confirmation” no matter what it is before going forward in what God might be telling you to do is not totally correct. We are children of FAITH and faith requires that we trust God when He is leading us to do something even if we do not receive confirmation regarding it before hand. Also, don’t forget that the Holy Spirit will give you peace regarding situations God is asking of you. If you do not have peace about something that is when you really need to wait and ask God to send you more clarity as to what He wants.

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