Art of Active ListeningThe need to communicate touches every aspect of our lives. Almost anything we do in life involves some form of communication with others. There is a wealth of theories on how to speak to others to best convey your message. But, communication is a two-way process. It is an activity, not a one-time event. A listener’s role is as central to the process as the speaker’s. Real communication and connection occur only when the speaker and the listener are equally engaged.

Active listening involves listening, clarifying, giving feedback, and self-disclosing. It requires the participation of both parties in verbal and non-verbal ways. The use of “I” statements is imperative.

Not surprisingly, actors and directors will experience tension in their relationships. By learning to utilize proper communication techniques and active listening, one can minimize those incidents.


Eye contact is critical. It demonstrates interest and engagement. Direct your gaze mainly at the speaker’s face, especially the eyes.  Absent eye contact communicates boredom, withdrawal, or lack of listening. Also be sensitive as some individuals may be uncomfortable with too much direct eye contact.

Be aware of your posture. Body language speaks volumes.  Sit or stand in a comfortable position, face the speaker, and make appropriate eye contact. Be aware of other non-verbal cues such as smiling, occasional nodding, leaning forward, and maintaining an open posture without encroaching on personal space.

Show that you are listening by paraphrasing the speaker’s words.  Paraphrasing means stating, in your own words, what someone has just said. Some common ways to lead into paraphrases include:

  • What I hear you saying is…
  • In other words…
  • So basically how you felt was…
  • What happened was…
  • Sounds like you’re feeling…

This allows the speaker to know you have heard and understood him. It also gives him the opportunity to clarify the areas where he feels misunderstood.

If something the speaker says is unclear to you, ask open-ended questions. Such questions show interest and invite continued communication.

Avoid clouding your listening attention with assumptions about what the other person is trying to say, what he really means, or what he wants the listener to do, etc. Assumptions are neither useful, nor accurate.  They prevent the listener from concentrating on what’s being said. If I’m assuming, I’m not listening.

When the speaker stops or pauses, focus your comment on the same topic. Changing the subject may convey lack of listening.  Also, our tendency is to fill all silent moments with words.  Instead, use silece to gather your thoughts and construct more appropriate responses.

Feedback and Recognition

People are much more likely to be interested and invested in your opinions or feedback if they know you are truly listening and understanding them. Monitor your reactions to what they say and give feedback in nonjudgmental, honest, and supportive ways.

Recognize that everyone is trying to survive the demands of life, build a support network, and be successful. Show empathy even if an individual’s solutions or experiences are different than yours.

Be an open, supportive, and neutral listener. This provides a safe environment for self-disclosure and emotional honesty.  Judgments, stereotypes, and biases only get in the way by blocking openness. Try to fully understand the person and his context versus relying on just your personal experience to guide them.

Always remain sympathetic to others without being consumed with their difficulties.  You must also remember your own wellbeing to avoid burnouts.

Free-flowing Information

The speaker also plays a role in active listening.  His job is to keep the listener focused and engaged by allowing room for questions and clarifications. When the speaker’s control of the message is too rigid, it blocks a two-way flow.

A few examples include:

  • Lecturing
  • Giving advice
  • Reprimanding

Stay Focused

The majority of people have private buzz-words, which have a definite emotional charge. Some are positive, others negative. When listeners hear their own buzz-words, they’re apt to accept or reject the whole message on the basis of their instant emotional reaction to the word or idea. When the buzz-word hits, the listening stops.

Listeners, who find themselves challenged by what they hear, may begin formulating counter-arguments while the message is still en route. The listener, though still apparently listening, has shifted focus to refuting what the speaker has “mistakenly” said.

Besides the above factors, environmental stimuli plus our own life issues or thoughts can distract us from truly attending to what another person is saying.

In our haste to share our ideas, we interrupt others, thus conveying a disregard for what they have to say.

So, listen actively.