Promoting Education and
   Research in Clinical and Translational
Science across the Career Pipeline

Mentoring Resources

Home > Mentoring > Active Listening

Active Listening

▼ What is active listening?

Active listening is an art, but it is an art that can be learned. Often, when you listen to another person speak, you are listening to some extent but you can also be distracted and engaged in other pursuits—thinking about something else, looking around, typing, listening to others, reading, etc. Sometimes, you assume that you know what the speaker is going to say and you start to formulate a response, rather than paying complete attention. Active listening involves forgoing all other activities for the time being and giving your full attention to the act of listening to ensure that you understand the speaker's intent as well as the feelings behind the speaker's words.

▼ What do I do to be an active listener?

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker while he or she is talking.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Stop all other activities.
  • Pay attention to what the speaker is saying.
  • Ask for clarification.
  • Paraphrase or restate what the speaker has said.
  • Pay attention not only to the words but also to the feelings behind the words. (By referring to the speaker's feelings ["It seems that you are angry about..."], you can make it clear that you understand what the speaker is saying and also understand the speaker's feelings about the topic.)

▼ Why should I become an active listener?

Active listening has several benefits. It forces people to listen attentively to others, and it helps avoid misunderstandings. Restating what the speaker has said makes certain that there is a common understanding between the listener and the speaker. Active listening can also give the speaker confidence that the listener is interested in what the speaker has to say. When people are in conflict, they often contradict each other. This tends to make people defensive, and they will either lash out or withdraw and say nothing more. However, if they feel that people are really attuned to their concerns and want to listen, they are likely to explain in detail what they feel and why. Active listening allows individuals to end conflict or avoid conflict by making sure each party understands what the other is saying.