Active listening is the practice of listening to a speaker while providing feedback indicating that the listener both hears and understands what the speaker is saying.
Therapists and other mental health professionals regularly practice active listening, but it is not exclusive to therapy.
Components of Active Listening
There are three primary components:
- Comprehending– Comprehension is a shared meaning between parties in a communication transaction. This is the first step in the listening process. In the comprehension stage of listening, the listener actively analyzes and listens to what the speaker is saying without distraction or thoughts about other topics.
- Retaining– Retaining is the second step in the process. Memory is essential to the listening process because the information retained when a person is involved in the listening process is how meaning from words is created. Retaining requires the listener to remember what the speaker has said so that the speaker’s full message can be conveyed. Some people may opt to take notes or use memory tricks when practicing active listening. Because everyone has different memories, the speaker and the listener may attach different meanings to the same statement.
- Responding– Responding is the act of providing both verbal and nonverbal feedback to the speaker that indicates the listener is both hearing and understanding what the speaker has said.
Examples of Active Listening
Listeners can utilize several techniques to accomplish this end. Nonverbal cues used by an active might include:
- Head nods
- Appropriate eye contact
- Leaning forward toward the listener
Verbal cues used by a listener may include statements such as:
- “I see”
- “How strange”
- “Tell me more