Active listening counselling

Active Listening Skills | Psychology Today

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“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time." —M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

Active listening is a way of listening that involves full attention to what is being said for the primary purpose of understanding the speaker. It is an important skill set for many different circumstances, ranging from the therapist’s office to the business world. If we are not listening actively, we are likely to miss the real message.

In my experience as a clinician, the ability to use active listening is essential for the long-term happiness of most couples. Attachment Theory has helped us understand that the most basic emotional needs of human beings include the need to be heard and the need to feel important to our partners (Johnson, 2008). One of the most common complaints that I hear during couples counseling sessions is one partner saying to the other: “You never listen to me!”

Social science research also evidences the crucial importance of active listening. Psychologist Willard Harley identified the 10 most common emotional needs of individuals in partner relationships (Harley, 2001). Among these top 10 was the need for “intimate conversation.” He described this need as being met by having discussions to inform or ask questions, discussing topics of mutual interest, and the willingness to listen to each other. More to the point, intimate conversation required giving and receiving undivided attention.

How to be an active listener

1. Listen without making judgments or taking a position on an issue. Gain an understanding of the situation from the other’s point of view.

2. Allow the speaker to finish thoughts without interruption. This usually includes brief periods of silence, such as a few seconds. It may take some practice before being able to know how long to wait before making some type of response. If unsure, it is always better to wait too long rather than speak too soon and interrupt the speaker’s thoughts.

3. Show that your attention is focused. Make eye contact, lean in towards the speaker when your interest peaks, and share any humor with a smile or other natural response.

4. Repeat what you have heard to check for accuracy. Use the speaker’s exact words when in doubt that you have heard accurately; more often, it is better to paraphrase what was said.

5. Ask questions as needed when you don’t understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, particularly when you’re trying to grasp the main point of their statement.

6. Give a short summary to indicate that you have heard and understood what was said.

7. Optional: As the final step, but not sooner, you may choose to share similar situations that you’ve experienced or your own views about the issue. You may even share a completely different opinion than that expressed, as long as that sharing is done after you have understood what was communicated to you.

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What to avoid during active listening

1. Interrupting a sentence. Even if there is a long pause, one should first encourage the completion of the thought by the speaker.

2. Failing to make eye contact. Breaks from eye contact are normal and expected, but a total lack of eye contact communicates a lack of attention.

3. Rushing the speaker. This can be a challenge, particularly when the speaker goes into excessive or unrelated details to tell their story. Do your best to politely encourage them to move along with the point.

4. Getting distracted by other thoughts, or events nearby, and losing focus. Daydreaming while pretending to listen is probably only going to frustrate the speaker.

5. Over focus upon certain details, or asking about minor details that distract from the speaker’s point.

6. Changing the subject abruptly. This includes interjecting an account of “something similar that happened to me.

7. Making jokes or sarcastic comments which distract from the points being made. Save the humor for later in the conversation.

8. Listening to decide what your reply should be. This is a common risk when the speaker is expressing a complaint and the listener begins to feel defensive. The natural tendency would be to shift focus to “how will I defend myself from this accusation?” or “how will I prove them wrong?” If you have actively listened, you may learn that you don’t need to defend yourself. Your partner may not be blaming you for anything. If blame has been thrown at you, you will have your chance to speak your own thoughts after you’ve listened to the complaint.

“There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As the great American poet Emerson suggested, you will have your turn to talk. There is really nothing to gain in a partner relationship by skipping the first step: active listening. Very often, the partner who needs to be heard is simply needing to vent some frustration and to know that you care enough to listen, even if there’s nothing you can do to “fix the problem. ” Listening attentively may be the best thing you can do to create a more satisfying partnership.

We all need to be heard by those closest to us, regardless of whether we’re right or wrong, and rational or irrational. Whatever the circumstances, the process of listening has a high likelihood of transforming the relationship in a positive way.

Principles of Active Listening in Counselling

Active listening is an essential skill counsellors can exploit to develop a positive and healthy interaction with a client.

“Active listening intentionally focuses on who you are listening to, whether in a group or one-on-one, in order to understand what he or she is saying. As the listener, you should then be able to repeat back in your own words what they have said to their satisfaction. This does not mean you agree with, but rather understand, what they are saying”.


There are numerous situations in which counsellors can utilise active listening to build rapport with clients and improve overall communication. Some of these are explored below.

Information – getting a clear picture. This means asking questions to find out about needs, instructions and context of a client. Counsellors should check back to ensure they’ve heard and understood the relevant details, and that the client agrees on the facts.

  • Aim of the speaker: To tell them what you want.
  • Aim of the listener: To find out and confirm what they are saying.

Affirmation – affirming, acknowledging, exploring the problem. Listening actively to a person who would benefit from having their problem acknowledged by the counsellor.

The problem may or may not involve the counsellor directly. Counsellors may reflect back the client’s feelings and perhaps the content of the problem with a single statement of acknowledgment or during a dialogue over a period of time, exploring the difficulty in more depth.

  • Aim of the speaker: To tell someone (counsellor) about the problem.
  • Aim of the listener: To help them hear what they are saying. The listener is assisting the speaker to explore the problem further, so the speaker can find greater clarity and understanding for themselves.

Inflammation – responding to a complaint. When clients tell the counsellor they are unhappy with them, criticising them, complaining about them, or getting it off their chest, the best thing the counsellor can do (although challenging) is to effectively listen.

  • Aim of the speaker: To tell the counsellor that they are the problem.
  • Aim of the listener: Let them know that they have taken in what they are saying and to defuse the strong emotion.

When there is conflict it is very common to blame the other person. It is challenging to be objective when the emotional level is high. Active listening is an effective tool to reduce the emotion of a situation. Every time the counsellor correctly labels an emotion, the intensity of it dissipates like bursting a bubble.

The speaker feels heard and understood. Once the emotional level has been reduced, reasoning abilities can function more effectively. If the emotions are high, counsellors should deal with the emotions first by using active listening skills. Effective use of active listening skills can turn a challenging situation into a co-operative situation.

Below is a list of what a counsellor should and shouldn’t do in relation to applying active listening skills to a therapeutic situation.

A counsellor should:

  1. Give the person speaking their full attention.
  2. Repeat the conversation back to them, in their own words, providing their interpretation or understanding of the client’s meaning (paraphrasing).
  3. By reflecting the content of what is being said back to the speaker, check their understanding of the message.
  4. Be as accurate in summarising the client’s meaning as much as they can.
  5. Try again if their paraphrasing is not accurate or well received.
  6. Feed back to the client their feelings as well as the content (e.g. how did you feel when…? How did that affect you…? It looks like that made you really angry).
  7. Challenge in a non-threatening and subtle manner.
    1. Statement: “This is hopeless.” Paraphrasing: “It seems hopeless to you right now”.
    2. Statement: “There is nothing I can do”. Paraphrasing: “You can’t find anything that would fix it”.
  8. Not try to force conversation, allow silences – and be aware of body language, notice changes and respond accordingly.

Counsellors should refrain from…

  1. Talking about themselves and introducing their own reactions or well intended comments.
  2. Changing topics and thinking about what they will say next.
  3. Advising, diagnosing, reassuring, encouraging, criticising or baiting a client.
  4. Using “mm” or “ah ah” exclusively or inappropriately or parrot their words.
  5. Pretending to have understood the person or their meaning if they haven’t.
  6. Allowing the client to drift to a less significant topic, because they feel the counsellor doesn’t understand.
  7. Fixing, changing or improving what they have said – or finishing their sentences for them.
  8. Filling every space with talk.
  9. Ignoring their feelings in the situation.

Active Listening Techniques » Dmitry Chernenko

The ability to listen attentively to the interlocutor helps not only in everyday communication, but is also a necessary professional skill. Active listening techniques are effectively used in psychological counseling, in the training of consultants in the social sphere, lawyers, managers, teachers. Without such a skill, it is impossible to conduct an equal dialogue, provide services, negotiate, make deals, and much more.

Modern means of communication and Internet technologies have changed the format of communication, simplified and standardized the processes of interaction between people. However, this did not change the essence of communication. Business wants to hear its customers, buyers, consumers. For this purpose, the requests of the target group are studied, contact is maintained in social networks. To meet the needs of a person, you need to hear what he wants. Political parties want to know the aspirations of their constituents. Attentive attitude to the interlocutor helps in interpersonal interaction.

Active listening plays a critical role in dialogue, but has limitations. Our desires, feelings, thoughts, ideas, past experiences inevitably affect the listening process and distort information. This happens both consciously and unconsciously. Before the conversation, you should tune in, once again determine the purpose of communication, realize what can interfere with the unbiased perception of the communication partner.

Active listening techniques are aimed at establishing partnerships. It is possible to achieve joint goals, taking into account the interests of all participants in the interaction. Despite the importance of non-verbal (without words) communication, the ability to listen is focused on the perception of verbal speech. These techniques are used in psychological counseling, but can be useful for attentive listening in any dialogue.

Drawing by Lilia Koroleva

Active listening techniques in dialogue

Active listening techniques are especially important in dialogue. In psychological counseling, dialogue is the main way of interacting with the client. Counselors are trained to use the following techniques.

Asking questions

Questions should not be abused. It is pointless to ask several questions at once or ask the next question without getting an answer to the previous one. It is important to remember what you want to hear, and choose questions and their appropriateness for this. Usually there are closed and open questions. If it is important to hear a clear answer from a person, then it is better to ask closed questions. For example:

  • “By what date will the order be completed?”
  • "Are you nervous?"

If it is important to hear a detailed opinion, then you should ask open-ended questions:

  • “How long will the order take?”
  • "How do you feel?"

It is better for the respondent to focus on the questions posed without changing their wording. The sincerity of your answers inspires confidence and encourages frankness. Frequent and inappropriate use of questions indicates an inattentive perception of the conversation. Answers to questions can be heard without asking them, focusing on what the interlocutor says.

Encouragement to talk

Dialogue constantly needs support. It is important to constantly and unobtrusively show interest in the conversation. By doing this, you reduce tension and encourage the interlocutor to actively communicate. In the process of dialogue, show the person that you are in contact with him and listen carefully. It is important to reinforce this with the words:

  • “Yes, yes, I am listening to you carefully.”
  • "Everything is clear."
  • "This is very interesting, keep going."
  • Sometimes interjections are enough for encouragement: “Mm”, “Uh-huh”, “Well, well!”, “Ah”, “Wow!”.

However, these reinforcements must be a manifestation of sincere attention to the speech of the communication partner.

Paraphrasing and summarizing

Repeating what the interlocutor said shows that you are listening carefully. Paraphrasing requires confirmation. It is important to repeat certain phrases in other words. A well-said thought becomes shorter and clearer. Generalization highlights the essence of the entire dialogue or some part of it. This gives direction to the conversation, returning to its essence and purpose. In conclusion, it is important to summarize and draw a conclusion that can be a guide to further joint actions. These techniques will demonstrate a good level of active listening.

Reflection of feelings.

This technique enhances the interlocutors' emotional understanding of each other, inspires confidence. The reflection of feelings is connected with paraphrasing and supplements it with the fact that it is not the content of the phrase that is paraphrased, but what is hidden behind it. It is important to maintain a balance between the logic of communication and its emotionality. Active listening techniques are interrelated, so they should be used in a balanced way, using them as tools to achieve the goal of communication.

Pauses of silence.

Silence in conversation causes unpleasant feelings and uncertainty. Silence can be constructive (associated with reflection or experience), or it can cause tension and unwillingness to continue communication. Pauses carry additional information about the process of communication. The ability to pause shows that you understand well what is happening with the interlocutor. Pauses provide freedom in partner communication, untimely and incorrect interruption of silence can create unnecessary tension.

Providing information

Adequately provided information shows your attentiveness in the conversation. Excessive or not timely provided information, facts do not contribute to mutual understanding. The expediency of submitting information shows your competence and inspires confidence. Excessive messages are tiring, stressful, and distrustful. The ability to take into account the demand for information, the ability to assimilate it will be favorable for a conversation.

Interpretation and confrontation

Arguing and drawing conclusions at the beginning of a dialogue is a fairly common mistake. This indicates an inability to listen. Obvious, at first glance, judgments characterize not so much the interlocutor and his point of view as they reflect our opinions and prejudices. Interpretation and confrontation are active listening techniques that I have singled out separately. They are the pinnacle of skill in communication, indicators of how well we know how to listen to the interlocutor. These techniques should be applied at the very last stages of communication. And it is advisable to enter into a confrontation only with a high level of trust.

Interpretation. Communication helps to solve jointly those tasks with which your interlocutor cannot cope on his own at this stage. Interpretation helps to find how to use joint efforts to achieve a common goal, remove obstacles that prevent this, and adjust tasks. It is important to show the interlocutor the cause-and-effect relationships that are obvious to you. However, this should be done discreetly. It is important to express an interpretation as an assumption:

  • “It seems to me that…”
  • I came to such and such a conclusion, and what do you think about this?

Peremptory conclusions repel, most likely, not the essence of what was said, the unacceptable directive manner of their expression.

Confrontation . Confrontation has a strong impact on all participants in communication, so it must be consistent and gradual. During the conversation, you reasonably show the inconsistency in the ideas of the interlocutor, which are an obstacle for him and for your interaction with him. The most important thing here is to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance of someone else's point of view: it may take time for perceptions to change. An ultimatum is not acceptable for an equal dialogue. Disagreement with obvious things can be due to many reasons, and not only of an objective nature, but also subjective.

Practical conclusion

The ability to listen carefully to the interlocutor helps not only in everyday communication, but is also a necessary professional special skill for conducting dialogues in many activities. The most effective active listening techniques are asking questions, encouraging conversation, paraphrasing and summarizing, expressing feelings, pauses of silence, providing information, interpreting and confronting. Before the conversation, you should tune in, once again determine the purpose of communication, realize what can interfere with the unbiased perception of the communication partner. Listening has a positive effect on personal effectiveness.

Sincerely, Dmitry Chernenko

Active listening technique 🍋 in psychology

Written by Lemonday at . Posted by Psychology

Active listening is a method that allows you to assess the psychological and emotional state of a person during interaction using special conversation techniques. Active listening is used in training work, psychological counseling and psychotherapy .


Basic concept

Listening is a communicative process during which there is mutual understanding, trust. Listening can be passive or active . In the first case, , the interlocutor simply perceives what he heard , so it is difficult to say anything about his interest. In the second case, he shows his interest with the help of communicative techniques - such as paraphrasing, clarifying, expressing his own opinion. Active listening was originally used exclusively by psychologists. After all, this method allows you to get to know a person better, understand his priorities, and more clearly indicate the request. In addition, by using active listening correctly , you can direct the conversation in the right direction .
With the help of some questions, psychologists manage to make the person himself understand the cause of his problems.
For example, the question “What can you do differently now?” or “What are the first steps you are willing to take to reach your goal?” stimulate man to systematize the information that he already possesses and make a decision.

Applications of Active Listening

Initially, active listening was used exclusively as a psychotherapeutic technique. But, because this method is very effective, today psychologists teach it to parents, husbands and wives. It is also used in training. Active listening is used in both business and marketing. With the help of this technique, you can overcome a lot of communication barriers .

Active Listening Techniques


When the client finishes speaking, pause. This will give the impression of thinking about what said and will allow to increase the level of trust between you.


In fact, this technique is associated with repetition of the words of the interlocutor , but in their own words. That is, a brief statement of what has been said.
After the paraphrase, you can use the question "Do I understand correctly?". This technique creates a sense of interest in the communication process.


It is very important for a psychologist to understand that when talking about an event in life, a person can get lost in the details or describe the insignificant. Therefore, after listening to the story, it is necessary to ask leading questions , which will clarify the overall picture.

Self perception

Expressing one's own perception is also a great communication technique. But this should be done very carefully so that the person does not think that you are putting pressure on him. If, for example, something seems obvious to you, instead of "That's exactly right" you can broadcast "I have a feeling..." or "I have a feeling..." .

Self-perception report

This is a very useful trick. It is commonly used in the Gestalt Approach . The psychologist can in some cases inform the client about how his own state changes during the conversation. For example, "It was important for me to hear this" .
An interesting observation. The use of active listening techniques can be useful not only for psychologists, but also for those who want to learn communication skills.


Rapport is an opportunity to create the most comfortable environment for the interlocutor . One in which it would be easier for him to open up. Rapport includes, in a sense, "attaching" to person with the help of intonation, tempo of speech, breathing. Sometimes these "channels" are supplemented by mirroring movements .


The same phrases, pronounced in different intonations , can be different affect person . For example, the usual "Yes" said loudly and clearly causes feelings of depression . And "Yes", said easily and naturally, in a quiet low voice, on the contrary, evokes a feeling of trust .

Speech rate

This parameter includes the tempo and duration of the individual words. Too fast speech can confuse a person. Too slow , on the contrary, cause boredom. If the psychologist speaks very slowly, it may seem to the client that he is not interested in fruitful activity.
Speech adjustment is more important for introverts than for extroverts .
Since most often the reaction rate of melancholics and phlegmatic people is slow, it is easier for them to perceive slower speech with pauses and accents on individual words. If the psychologist is an extrovert (for example, choleric ) with fast speech, he needs to learn how to adapt.


Connecting to the client's breath allows to talk to him at the same pace . At the same time, the psychologist has an additional opportunity to change his general condition. First, joining the breathing (for example, rapid), after some time you can change your own breathing - make it deeper, slower, more relaxed. And then the client will do the same. And, accordingly, he will be able to calm down, relax, show confidence.


Empathy is the ability to feel what another person feels. It is very important for a psychologist to balance between emotional attachment to a person and awareness of one's own emotional state. It's will allow you not to dive too deep into the client's problem . Empathy allows you to feel when a person is truthful, and when he is somewhat distorted in presenting information. Active listening is one of the methods that allows you to create effective interaction between people . If earlier it was used mostly in psychology, now it is used both in the business sphere and in the field of everyday communication.
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