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Active Listening

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Topic Overview

Active listening is a dynamic 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 different from listening. Hearing is a physical process. A person can hear what another person is saying without listening to the message.

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Listening is an active process of thinking about the meaning of the message that was heard. Sometimes two people do not 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 interpreted in the way it was intended. To listen actively, a person needs to pay attention to the behaviors and tone of the speaker.

Active listening takes practice. When you want to actively listen to someone:

  • 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 and 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 listening to a person speak, turn off radios, televisions, and other noisy devices. Remove any articles that may distract you or the speaker. Do not try to do other things while you are listening.
  • Be present. Being present 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 and resisting any urge to interrupt, judge, or argue with the speaker about his or her views.
  • Show that you are listening. Nod your head periodically and show your interest in what's being said by saying "please continue," "yes," or "tell me more."

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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