Active Listening Exercises: What to Do and Not to Do
Taking the time to listen, to truly listen to someone, can truly communicate our love and respect even more than our spoken words. – Anonymous
Have you ever been talking to someone and wondered if they were listening to what you were saying? Did it feel as though you were talking to a brick wall?Listening is a skill we can all benefit from improving. According to research studies, most of us only remember 25-50 percent of what we hear, which means that when you are talking to someone there’s a good chance they’re only paying attention to half the conversation or less. It also means that when you’re the one doing the listening, you aren’t hearing the whole message either (Edgar Dale, Cone of Experience).
The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening,” which involves more than just “hearing” what the other person is saying. Active listening means putting your own agenda aside, and making a conscious effort to give the speaker your undivided attention without allowing yourself to become distracted by what’s going on around you, letting your mind wander, or thinking about what you’re going to say while they’re still speaking.
It’s one of the greatest gifts you can bring to a relationship, because it demonstrates attentiveness, caring, and respect, and makes the other person feel heard and valued.
Benefits of active listening in a relationship
- Being an active listener in a relationship shows your partner that you recognize the conversation is about him or her, not you. This can be particularly reassuring if they are feeling distressed.
- Listening well can help you avoid conflict and misunderstandings.
- Active listening enables you to understand your partner’s point of view and keeps you from jumping in with a “quick fix” when all he or she wanted was just to be heard.
Mastering the art of active listening is not a skill that comes naturally to most of us. It requires patience, commitment, and practice. The following are some active listening exercises to help you become a more effective listener.
Active listening exercises
Things to do
Pay attention. Give the person speaking to you your undivided attention. Look at them while they are talking, lean forward, and show them that you are listening by acknowledging what they are saying with an occasional head nod, a smile, or an “uh-huh.” In addition to listening to what is being said verbally, watch for nonverbal cues such as their facial expressions, body stance, and tone of voice.
Stay focused. Shut down your internal dialogue while listening, and stay focused on what the other person is saying. Don’t let your mind drift, or allow yourself to get distracted by things going on around you such as side conversations, or be mentally preparing a response while the other person is still speaking.
Refrain from fidgeting, looking at your watch, abruptly changing the subject, or doodling, which is not only rude, but is apt to convey a message to the speaker that you are bored, not listening, and/or are in a rush to end the conversation.
If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what the other person is saying, try to mentally repeat their words as they say them. This will reinforce what you’re hearing, and help you stay focused.
Be patient. Active listening requires patience – not just listening with half an ear and presuming you already know what the other person is going to say. Patience also means not jumping in to fill periods of silence. Choose to be quiet and allow the other person to finish what they have to say.
Empathize. Listen with your heart – not just your ears. Being empathetic validates the other person’s feelings, and shows him or her that you acknowledge and respect what they are saying. Feeling understood instead of being judged reduces stress and the need to be defensive, and increases clarity. It also strengthens the relationship.
Provide feedback. Reflect on what the person speaking is saying. Show interest by periodically paraphrasing what you hear and reflecting it back to them (e.g., “In other words, what you’re saying is…”). What we hear can be distorted by our assumptions and beliefs, so to make sure you are understanding what is being said correctly, ask clarifying open-ended questions, as opposed to yes or no questions which may shut down the conversation.
Withhold judgment. Listen to what is being said with an open, neutral mind. Train yourself not to formulate an opinion or a response until the whole story has been heard. Unlike critical listening, active listening has no agenda.
Your role is not to evaluate what the other person is saying so you can offer your own ideas and opinions. Unless you are specifically asked for advice, don’t give it. Just be a sounding board that enables him or her to perhaps come up with a solution on their own.
Respond appropriately. Active listening is designed to encourage, respect, and understand the other person. There is nothing to be gained by attacking them or putting them down. Be open and honest in your responses, but assert your opinion courteously and respectfully. Treat the other person the way you would want them to treat you.
Things not to do
Don’t make assumptions. Assumptions are based on preconceived notions about what the other person is sharing. When you are assuming, you are jumping to a conclusion that may be wrong. Confirm you understand what is being said before responding.
Don’t interrupt. Don’t interrupt the speaker with counter-arguments or advice. Not only will it frustrate them, but it will also prevent you from fully understanding the message they’re trying to convey. Being interrupted devalues the other person’s ideas, and is a form of disrespect. So is story topping. Remember, it’s not about you. Trying to beat them by inserting your experience into theirs can be very disheartening.
Don’t be dismissive. Don’t discount or dismiss the other person’s feelings by saying things like “cheer up,” “it’s no big deal,” or “don’t worry.” Try to see what they are sharing from their perspective, and validate their feelings even if you don’t agree with them.
Don’t give advice. Clear your mind, and listen to understand – not necessarily to agree. Unless the speaker has asked for your opinion, don’t tell them what to do or try to fix the problem.
Is active listening mentioned in the Bible?
The Bible has much to say about listening. James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We are repeatedly commanded to listen to God’s instructions, as well as to love one another, and actively listening to another person is an act of love. It shows them that they matter.
Giving someone time to share their heart lets him or her know that we care. When, however, we’re preoccupied with our own thoughts instead, thinking of what we can say in response to them, or mentally rejecting the speaker’s point of view, we’re diminishing them.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. – Philippians 2:3-4
Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. – Proverbs 18:2
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13
If you feel you need more help learning how to actively listen to others than this article was able to provide, please reach out to one of the faith-based counselors in our online counselor directory. We would be happy to answer your questions and/or set up an appointment to meet with you.
Arlin Cuncic (May 25, 2020). How to Practice Active Listening, Verywell Mind.
“Listen”, Courtesy of Nick Fewings, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of The HK Photo Company, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Shelby Deeter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Dương Hữu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License