Content Map Terms

Active Listening


Active listening is a process that includes:

  • Paying attention to what another person is saying.
  • Thinking about what the person has just said.
  • Responding in a way that lets the person know that you understood what he or she was trying to say.

Hearing is not the same as listening. Hearing is a physical process. A person can hear what another person is saying but not listen to the message.

Listening is an active process of thinking about the meaning of the message that was heard. Sometimes two people don't interpret what they hear in the same way. A person's interpretation may vary according to personal values, beliefs, and past experiences.

Active listening requires the listener to check with the speaker to make sure that the message is understood in the way it was intended. The listener needs to pay attention to the behaviours and tone of the speaker.

Practicing active listening

Active listening takes practice. When you want to actively listen to someone, use these tips.

  • Provide privacy.

    When a person wants to talk about someone important to him or her, privacy may be essential. Find a quiet corner if no private place is available. Talk in a low voice to help the person feel secure. Teens in particular need to feel that their conversations about important matters are kept private and confidential.

  • Reduce distractions.

    When you listen to a person speak, turn off radios, TVs, and other noisy devices. Remove any articles that may distract you or the speaker. Don't try to do other things while you are listening.

  • Be present.

    This means listening to what the other person says and accepting the other person's thoughts and feelings even when they are different from yours. Being present also means not thinking about other things while the person is talking. Resist any urge to interrupt, judge, or argue with the speaker about his or her views.

  • Show that you are listening.

    Nod your head now and then. Show your interest in what's being said by saying "please continue," "yes," or "tell me more."

Using active listening with teens

When you actively listen to a teen, understand that teens often think others are watching and judging them. They may need reassurance that you are listening and that you aren't judging them. It is also important to be genuine with teens. They can spot an insincere adult. Don't try to be a buddy with a teen. Teens don't like it when adults in their lives try to act like teens themselves.

When listening to a teen, pay close attention to how he or she describes the situation. Make a mental note if you think the teen doesn't understand what is happening. When the timing seems right, clarify any misunderstandings the teen has about the situation.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine