active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. However, it can be difficult to master, as one has to be patient and take time to develop it properly.

Active listening refers, as its name suggests, to active and fully conscious listening . Therefore, active listening is not listening to the other person, but being totally focused on the message that the other individual is trying to communicate.

Active listening: listening and understanding communication from the speaker’s point of view

Although it may seem that active listening is easy, this type of listening requires an effort of our cognitive and empathic abilities . Knowing how to listen is very important in communication, and although it may not seem so, on many occasions we spend a lot of time paying attention to what we think and what we say instead of actively listening to the other.

Active listening is not passive listening, but refers to the ability to hear not only what the person is expressing directly, but also the feelings, ideas or thoughts that underlie what is being expressed. In active listening, empathy is important to put oneself in the other’s place, but also emotional validation, acceptance and feedback , because one must listen without judging and it is necessary to communicate to the other person that one has been understood. For this reason, there are two elements that facilitate active listening, they are the following:

  • Psychological disposition : the internal preparation is important, to be in the present moment, to pay constant attention and to observe the other: to identify the content of what he says, the objectives and the feelings.
  • Expression of hearing the other speaker with verbal communication, in what is known as the phantom function of language ( I see, umm, uh , etc.) and non-verbal language (eye contact, gestures, body tilt, etc.).

What not to do in active listening

Here we review some errors that can occur when listening to the other person :

  • Getting distracted during conversation
  • Interrupt the speaker
  • Judging it and wanting to impose your ideas
  • Offering help prematurely and with lack of information
  • Rejecting and not validating what the other is feeling
  • Disqualify by giving your opinion
  • Telling your own story instead of listening to theirs

Signals indicating correct active listening

There are several signals that show the other person that you are actively listening. Below are the verbal and non-verbal signals of active listening, so that you may be able to adapt your communicative style towards a better understanding and comprehension of your interlocutor.

1. Non-verbal signals

Active listeners often show the following non-verbal signs:

Eye contact

The eye contact shows the other person that you are paying attention to what he or she is saying and feeling and can also show sincerity. Combining eye contact with other verbal and non-verbal signals shows interest in what the other person is expressing.

Light smile

This assures the interlocutor that the information he is transmitting is being well received and motivates him to keep talking. Therefore, it acts as a reinforcer, as well as giving a message of empathy.

Receptive body posture

The position gives information about the sender and the receiver in the communication process. The active listener tends to lean slightly forward or sideways while sitting.


The automatic reflection or mirroring of any facial expression of the speaker can be a sign of attentive listening. These expressive gestures seem to indicate sympathy and empathy in emotional situations. In contrast, conscious imitation of facial gestures (not automatic) seems to be a sign of inattention.


The active listener will not be distracted, as his or her attention is focused on the verbal and non-verbal signals that he or she is sending to the listener.

2. Verbal signals

Issue reinforcement words or compliments

This type of verbalization r strengthens the speaker’s discourse by conveying that one validates his point of view. Phrases such as “you did very well”, “I like it when you are sincere” or “you must be very good at football” show attention from the listener. Although these phrases can be positive, they should not be used excessively, as they can distract the sender.


Paraphrasing refers to verifying or expressing in one’s own words what the speaker seems to have just said . In this way, the sender can inform the receiver whether the latter has understood the message correctly. An example of paraphrasing might be: “You mean you felt this way


A person who masters the skill of active listening usually summarises what the other partner has just communicated to him or her. This helps to make it clear that you understand the other person’s point of view before putting forward your own.

Asking questions

The listener can show that he or she has been attentive by asking relevant questions. In this way he can clarify the information he has received and show interest in what the sender is trying to communicate.