Finding you the perfect article...
Active listening is a key skill that allows individuals to truly engage in effective communication. However, it is important to master this art without sounding like a furby. By actively listening, you can understand the

The Problem With Active Listening

10almonds is reader-supported. We may, at no cost to you, receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

The problem with active listening

Listening is an important skill to keep well-trained at any age. It’s important in romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, friendships, and more.

First, for any unfamiliar or hazy-of-memory: active listening is the practice of listening, actively. The “active” side of this comes in several parts:

  1. Asking helpful questions
  2. Giving feedback to indicate that the answer has been understood
  3. Prompting further information-giving

This can look like:

  • A: How did you feel when that happened?
  • B: My heart was racing and I felt panicked, it really shocked me
  • A: It really shocked you?
  • B: Yes, because it was so unexpected; I’d never imagined something like this happening
  • A: You’d never expect something like that
  • B: No, I mean, I had no reason to

And… As a superficial listening technique, it’s not terrible, and it has its place

But unfortunately, if it’s one’s only listening technique, one will very quickly start sounding like a Furby—that children’s toy from the 90s that allegedly randomly parroted fragments of things that had been said to it. In fact this was a trick of programming, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

The point is: the above technique, if used indiscriminately and/or too often, starts to feel like talking to a very basic simulacrum.

Which is the opposite of feeling like being listened to!

A better way to listen

Start off similarly, but better.

Ask open questions, or otherwise invite sharing of information.

People can be resistant to stock phrases like “How did that make you feel?”, but this can be got around by simply changing it up, e.g.:

  • “What was your reaction?” ← oblique but often elicits the same information
  • “I’m not sure how I’d feel about that, in your shoes” ← not even a question, but shows active attention much better than the “mmhmm” noises of traditional active listening, and again prompts the same information

Express understanding… But better

People have been told “I understand” a lot, and often it’s code for “Stop talking”. So, avoid “I understand”. Instead, try:

  • “I can understand that”
  • “Understandable”
  • “That makes sense”

Ask clarifying questions… Better

Sometimes, a clarifying question doesn’t have to have its own point, beyond prompting more sharing, and sometimes, an “open question” can be truly wide open, meaning that vaguer is better, such as:

  • “Oh?”
  • “How so?” ← this is the heavy artillery that can open up a lot

Know when to STFU

Something that good therapists (and also military interrogators) know: when to STFU

If someone is talking, don’t interrupt them. If you do, they might not start again, or might skip what they were going to say.

Interruption says “I think you’ve said all that needs to be said there”, or else, if the interruption was to ask one of the above questions, it says “you’re not doing a good enough job of talking”, and neither of those sentiments encourage people to share, nor do they make someone feel listened-to!

Instead, just listen. Passive listening has its place too! When there’s a break, then you can go to one of the above questions/prompts/expressions of understanding, as appropriate.

Judge not, lest they feel judged

Reserve judgement until the conversation is over, at the earliest. If asked for your judgement of some aspect, be as reassuring as you can. People feel listened-to when they don’t feel judged.

If they feel judged, conversely, they can often feel you didn’t listen properly, or else you’d be in agreement with them. So instead, just sit on it for as long as you can.

Note: that goes for positive judgements too! Sit on it. Expressing a positive judgement too soon can seem that you were simply eager to please, and can suggest insincerity.

If this seems simple, that’s because it is. But, try it, and see the difference.

Stay Healthy With Our Daily Newsletter

Our newsletter is our pride and joy

It’s 100% free, and you just need to enter your email below to sign up

If you don’t like it, you can unsubscribe at any time

See More

Related Posts

A state of well-being that encompasses both physical and mental health is crucial for a healthy body and mind.

Healthy Mind In A Healthy Body

The 8-minute music piece “Weightless” by Marconi was scientifically created to relax the listener. It induced greater relaxation levels than a massage and was rated as the most relaxing music. Try it for yourself!

Read More »
How to improve emotional regulation with Alexithymia.

How Are You?

Struggling to understand your emotions? Start by checking in with your basic needs, then observe your body’s physical sensations. Experiment and find what helps you express and process your emotions.

Read More »