What is Active Listening?







Sometimes you may look like you are listening, but are you? Active listening is an important interpersonal skill and includes…

1) Giving your undivided attention to the speaker

undivided attention

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The text you just received is likely not that important. Looking at your phone, the clock on the wall, or others passing by are all examples of NOT giving your undivided attention to the speaker.


2) Being okay with silence

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Sure, silence makes many people uncomfortable, but it can give the speaker a chance to think about what he/she wants to say or decide if they want to say it at all. You might be surprised the information people will tell you if you just stop talking.


3) Making an effort to understand the speaker

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If you don’t understand their question or what they are telling you, ask them. If you just respond with something, you could be way off, and they may think you don’t “get them,” or that you were not really listening at all.


4) Focusing on what the speaker is saying

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Sometimes individuals can hear others talking, but they are so busy thinking about how they are going to respond or what they can contribute to the conversation that they aren’t actually focusing or listening to what the speaker is saying.


5) Being empathetic


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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall. Avoiding judgement and listening with empathy demonstrates a high level of emotional self-control. Have you ever felt like you just want someone on your side? Sometimes people just need to know that others really hear and understand them.


6) Using affirming body language

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Body language is the fastest way to let the speaker know you acknowledge his/her delivery. Sitting with your arms folded gives the impression that you are not approachable or not interested in what the speaker has to say.


7) Reflecting what they said

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You can summarize or repeat some of what the speaker said for clarity. Doing this without judgement can help the speaker to know you are interpreting what he/she said correctly. And, it can make them feel like you support them.


*A big thank you to UIUC undergrad student, Hao-Cheng Hsu.  Hao found the GIFs and did the research for the content in this post. His sources for active listening included:

Active Listening. (n.d.). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Cordingley, P. (2006). Talking to learn: the role of dialogue in professional development. Education Review, 19(2), 50-57.

Research Consortium. (1999, July 20).  Active Listening. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

About Jill Bowers

Jill is a certified family life educator (CFLE), certified family and consumer scientist (CFCS-HDFS), and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human and Community Development at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She developed the idea for this project when she was working on a research project where she interviewed emerging adults (18-20 year olds). Work and career related content was something about which the emerging adults were most interested in learning more, and many of the issues that were at the center of their daily concerns were those surrounding their career plans and navigating the job market. Although some of the emerging adults in the study were aware of the fact that they could find information on the Internet to answer their questions or that there were resources available through their college or University, most of them could not recall being required to participate in any professional development courses that helped them with career-related skills and most of them suffered from “information overload” related to their Internet searches for information that would help them with their career paths. For example, some of them had been told about the importance of networking (e.g., at Career Fairs), but they did not really understand what this was or how to do it. Therefore, as a result of her experiences working with emerging adults, Jill initiated this project to help FCS students by providing them with information that will help ensure their success as they navigate the job market.

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