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Active Listening

Topic Overview

Active listening is a dynamic process that includes:

  • Paying attention to what another person is saying.
  • Thinking about what the person has just said.
  • Responding in a way that lets the person know that you understood what he or she was trying to say.

Hearing is different from listening. Hearing is a physical process. A person can hear what another person is saying without listening to the message.

Listening is an active process of thinking about the meaning of the message that was heard. Sometimes two people do not interpret what they hear in the same way. A person's interpretation may vary according to personal values, beliefs, and past experiences.

Active listening requires the listener to check with the speaker to make sure that the message is interpreted in the way it was intended. To listen actively, a person needs to pay attention to the behaviors and tone of the speaker.

Active listening takes practice. When you want to actively listen to someone:

  • Provide privacy. When a person wants to talk about someone important to him or her, privacy may be essential. Find a quiet corner if no private place is available and talk in a low voice to help the person feel secure. Teens in particular need to feel that their conversations about important matters are kept private and confidential.
  • Reduce distractions. When listening to a person speak, turn off radios, televisions, and other noisy devices. Remove any articles that may distract you or the speaker. Do not try to do other things while you are listening.
  • Be present. Being present means listening to what the other person says and accepting the other person's thoughts and feelings even when they are different from yours. Being present also means not thinking about other things while the person is talking and resisting any urge to interrupt, judge, or argue with the speaker about his or her views.
  • Show that you are listening. Nod your head periodically and show your interest in what's being said by saying "please continue," "yes," or "tell me more."

When actively listening to a teen, it is important to understand that teens often think others are watching and judging them. They may need reassurance that you are listening and that you are not judging them. It is also important to be genuine with teens. They can spot an insincere adult. Do not try to be a buddy with a teen. Teens do not like it when adults in their lives try to act like teens themselves.

When listening to teens, pay close attention to how the teen is describing the situation. Make a mental note if you think he or she does not understand what is happening. When the timing seems right, clarify any misunderstandings the teen has about the situation.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Sidney Zisook, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised November 4, 2013

Last Revised: November 4, 2013

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