Active Listening

Active listening is an art that can be learned. Often, when you listen to another person speak, you are listening to some extent but you can also be distracted and engaged in other pursuits –thinking about something else, looking around, typing, listening to others, reading, etc. Sometimes, you assume that you know what the speaker is going to say and you start to formulate a response, rather than paying complete attention to what they are saying in the moment. Active listening involves forgoing all other activities for the time being and giving your full attention to the act of listening to ensure that you understand the speaker's intent as well as the feelings behind the speaker's words.

What can I do to be an active listener?

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker while he or she is talking.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Stop all other activities.
  • Pay attention to what the speaker is saying.
  • Ask for clarification.
  • Summarize what the speaker has said.
  • Pay attention not only to the words but also to the feelings behind the words. (By referring to the speaker's feelings ["It seems that you are angry about..."], you can make it clear that you understand what the speaker is saying and also understand the speaker's feelings about the topic.)

This section adapted with permission from the Institute for Clinical Research Education Mentoring Resources, University of Pittsburgh. Learn more about PITT ICRE Mentoring.