How to become an Active Listener

When a disagreement arises, are you truly listening to the other person, or just waiting to respond? Most of us think we are very good at listening, but research suggests we remember only a quarter of what we hear in a conversation. Active listening involves much more than just being silent while the other person speaks. It means giving your full attention to the other person, being empathetic and truly trying to understand their point of view. Mastering active listening takes practice, as it involves both verbal and nonverbal communication. Here’s how to become a better active listener, in 4 steps:

  • Pay attention to what is being said and how (tone of voice, facial expressions etc). Put aside distracting thoughts. Stay focused but relaxed.
  • Show that you are listening, using non-verbal communication: facing the speaker, maintaining eye contact, smiling, nodding encouragingly, leaning forward and saying yes.
  • Listen without judging. Do not interrupt or cut them off – it will give an impression of, ‘I don’t care what you think, I am more important than you are’.
  • Clarify by asking questions (non-judgementally). Paraphrase what is being said, rather than offering advice or opinions. Summarise and seek feedback to your accuracy.


Examples of verbal responses:

  • What I have heard you say is…
  • Have I understood you correctly when you say...?
  • This sounds really important to you. Can I ask…?
  • What would it look like if…
  • I really want to understand your point of view, so can you tell me more…
  • What are you needs in this situation?
  • I am not sure I understand, please can you tell me more?
  • I can hear this has been very hard for you. Could we look at that in more depth, you said…
  • It might be helpful to ‘park’ that and come back to it in a moment. Is that ok?
  • Can you tell me how this makes you feel?


Barriers to effective listening

Watch out for these common factors so that they interfered as little as possible with understanding the message:

  • External noise – this includes having TV or radio on, or trying to listen to more than one conversation at a time.
  • Attention span - people can only maintain focused attention for a certain amount of time before they get distracted. Do not lose focus by gazing out of the window, fiddling with your hair etc.
  • Biases - good active listening involves keeping an open mind and withholding judgement until the speaker has completed the message.
  • Apprehension - a fear that you might be unable to understand the message or process the information coherently. The information might be too complex.


This #ASBAwarenessWeek, WMS has partnered with Wandsworth Council to help tackle anti-social behaviour in the community. Each day we'll be posting conflict resolution techniques to help nip ASB-related conflicts in the bud:
Monday, July 19 – Navigating tough conversations
Tuesday, July 20 – Top 5 conflict styles and resolution strategies
Wednesday, July 21 – Using I-statements to transform conflict situations
Thursday, July 21 – How to become an Active Listener
Friday, July 22 – Default responses to conflict and how to overcome them

If you are entrenched in a conflict with your neighbour, you can get free help. At Wandsworth Mediation Service (WMS), we offer free community mediation to all Wandsworth residents. Two trained mediators will facilitate the conversation, help you listen to each other’s point of view and assist you in developing mutually agreeable solutions. Mediation is free, completely confidential and highly effective - most cases settle after the first meeting. Contact us for more information.

Grateful thanks to Sharon Crooks, Nick Adlington and Lizzie Haynes.