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How To Be A Good Listener – Active Listening in 5 Steps

Cain Parish

In This Article:

Good listening – active listening – is not some difficult concept to achieve. Most people that find themselves good at conversation have focused on developing their skills over time. It just takes a little bit of practice. This guide will give you the roadmap and teach you how to be a good listener. Let’s dive in.

Infographic of an ear receiving a sound wave demonstrating how to listen

1. Introduction: The Power of Listening

Listening is more than just hearing the words spoken by someone. It’s about understanding and interpretation.

The goal of communication is to take information from your head and transmit it to another person. This is only possible when the receiver is able to listen and appropriately interpret what is being communicated. Hence, it’s important for everyone that cares about the strength and effectiveness of their relationships to develop their listening skills.

This isn’t just about the literal meaning of the words, but also the emotional undertones, the nuances, and the unspoken messages in between. For many, truly listening can be a challenge. But with practice and dedication, anyone can master this invaluable skill. The key lies in understanding how conversation works and how you can best interpret the information given to you.

2. Foundations of Effective Listening

Active Listening

Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, and then responding to what the other person is saying. It’s the bridge between passive hearing and deep comprehension. For example, when someone shares their feelings or concerns, an active listener won’t just nod but might say something like, “I understand that you’re feeling this way because…”

Many professionals and speakers will talk very highly of active listening. It’s not just because it’s a marketable concept, although that does help. The benefits of active listening are twofold. Firstly, when you parrot back someone’s sentence to them, it shows them that you’ve been able to break down and paraphrase what they’re saying. That’s a pretty essential part of comprehension, and it gives the speaker confidence in you.

Secondly, by having to engage with what you’ve heard critically enough to repeat it back, your brain processes the information considerably more than if you just glossed past the conversation. Part of learning is engaging with the information, and that makes just as much sense through books and study as it does through conversation.

Active listening isn’t hard. Simply paraphrase what the other person has said, and repeat it back to them in a natural, non-patronising way. If you were paying attention, this should be simple.


Empathy goes beyond just understanding someone’s words. It’s about feeling what they feel and seeing things from their perspective. By developing empathy, listeners can forge stronger connections and offer more meaningful feedback.

Logical and emotional empathy are vastly different. Emotional empathy is unconscious, it’s an emotional reaction to observing emotion around you. When we listen, we apply logical empathy. Our interpretation of someone else’s feelings gives us context to respond appropriately to them.

Listening to emotional conversations gives you a chance to practice your empathy. You get to learn what sentiments make people feel different things, and to see what emotions arise from different situations. Your responses don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to try. Supporting people that feel down, or celebrating people that have found success are simple ways to empathetically engage with others.

Non-Verbal Cues

Often, what’s unsaid speaks volumes. From facial expressions to body language, non-verbal cues can offer insights into a speaker’s true feelings and thoughts. A raised eyebrow, a clenched fist, or even the tone of voice can provide context that words alone might miss.

Much of listening is about interpreting what someone’s said into fully fleshed context. Part of that is their non-verbal communication. Body language, tone and context all provide subtext to the literal words that came from a person’s mouth. Your ability to understand and interpret what is being told to you is directly tied to your ability to interpret the other parts of communication that are non-verbal.

3. The Science Behind Listening

Listening isn’t just an art; it’s a science. Neurologically, when we listen, our brain processes auditory information, decodes it, and then associates it with existing knowledge. This process, while seemingly instantaneous, involves complex neural pathways.

Moreover, studies have shown that effective listeners have better interpersonal relationships and fewer misunderstandings. Therefore, it’s pretty clear that listening is a vital skill.

The centre of your brain that processes audio isn’t the same as the one that retains information. From experience studying, we all know that we’re capable of reading or hearing something and not having it make its way into our memory or our brain.

The significance of this information should be apparent. To appropriately listen to someone, we need to prevent information going in one ear and out the other. Retaining information is just as important as hearing it.

Retention is a very personal thing. Many of us prefer our information in different ways. Personally, I’m a visual learner. I take images and visual signals and retain them as information, associated with memories or sentiments that I’ve heard from others. Without a visual, I struggle to hold onto information. Perhaps you’re like me, or perhaps you prefer audio or emotional learning.

Whatever your preference, lean into it. Find a way for your conversations to take a visual element if you need one. Find an anchor point to associate with important memories or conversations.

4. Tips to Enhance Your Listening Skills

  • Stay Present: In today’s digital age, distractions are everywhere. To truly listen, put away your phone, minimize background noise, and focus on the speaker. Even simply checking a notification on your phone can distract your brain for up to fifteen minutes afterwards, preventing any retention of information.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, try questions that start with ‘how’, ‘what’, or ‘why’. This encourages more in-depth conversations. The more information you can get from someone, the more context you can apply to their story.
  • Paraphrase: Repeating back what you’ve heard, in your own words, ensures you’ve truly understood the speaker. This technique also reassures the speaker that they’re being heard.
  • Avoid Interrupting: Let the speaker finish their thought before jumping in. Interruptions can break the flow of conversation and may make the speaker feel unheard. As much as it can be tempting to speak, we want to avoid the trope of simply waiting for your turn to talk. Listening is about truly taking in the other person’s sentiment, not just passing time by whilst you wait your turn.
  • Give Feedback: Whether it’s a nod, a smile, or a verbal affirmation, feedback shows the speaker that you’re engaged and interested in what they’re saying. Question things that don’t make sense. Ask for clarification. Engage with viewpoints, ideas and stories in a way that shows your interest.

5. Conclusion: Listening as a Continuous Journey

Becoming a good listener is a continuous journey of self-improvement. It requires patience, practice, and a genuine desire to understand others. By honing our listening skills, we can foster better relationships, make more informed decisions, and truly connect with the world around us.

Why Selfless Relationships Last Longer is another insightful article that emphasizes the importance of putting others first and understanding their emotions and perspectives.

By considering the components mentioned in this article, you’ll find that your ability to interpret others and retain the information they give you has gotten better. This will benefit your relationships, your personal and professional life, and almost anything that has to do with other people.

Just like most skills, listening takes practice. It’s a vague skill without much in the way of feedback or shortcuts. But, by understanding the key takeaways and practicing the individual components, you can have confidence in your ability to assess and interpret information given to you. A valuable thing indeed.

I hope this article offers a comprehensive understanding of how to be a good listener and the benefits that come with it. Remember, listening is a gift you give to others. So, why not master it?


What is good listening?

Good listening is simple in theory and difficult in practice. It involves taking every piece of information you’re being communicated and absorbing it fully and properly. Our emotions or our distractions can often get in the way of understanding what someone else is trying to say. A good listener avoids these pitfalls in favour of better understanding.

How do I listen better?

Practicing listening is the same as practicing any form of communication – you guess and you check. We can only theorise what someone else has going on in their head, but by assessing what they’ve said and how they’ve said it, we can make educated guesses. The success or failure of these tests is how you practice listening better. Be attentive, engaged and focus on the subtext of someone’s communication.

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Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.

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