The art of active listening: Skills, benefits & examples

Active listening isn't just about hearing your partner's words. It's about understanding their perspective and emotions. Discover how this skill can improve your relationship in countless ways.

On this page

Let’s face it, no relationship can survive without the skill of active listening. In today’s world, it is the one essential thing that truly opens up the lines of communication between people and allows meaningful conversations to occur.

But what exactly is active listening, and how do you become a master at it? In this article, we’ll help you become an active listener by exploring the skills, benefits, and examples of using active listening to make everyday interactions more meaningful and productive.

Are communication problems getting in the way of your relationship? Learn how effective communication can help create and maintain a strong bond with your partner.

What is active listening?

What is active listening?

If you’ve followed magazine advice columns, you’re probably familiar with “active listening”. It’s a fairly common term used to describe the skill one needs to engage in a conversation and truly understand the other person.

Definition of active listening

Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear. In other words, instead of simply hearing a person’s words, active listening encourages you to focus entirely on what they say and how they feel.

By doing this, you can gain a better understanding of the person and their message, allowing you to respond in a more meaningful way. In essence, active listening involves body language, such as nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using verbal cues to show the speaker that you understand what they’re saying. 1

Active listening is important in all social relationships, including friendships, the workplace, and romantic relationships. It was patterned from empathic listening as a psycho-therapeutic technique, encouraging the listener to focus on understanding and validating a speaker’s thoughts and feelings. 2 3

This skill is critical in first impressions, as all relationships begin with a conversation. When we actively listen, it builds trust and respect, essential for any successful relationship. 1

Active listening examples

Listening carefully to your partner can help you feel closer to each other and understand each other better. So, how do you actively listen? Here are some examples: 4

  1. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you don’t understand something.
  2. Make eye contact. Look at the person you speak with and focus on what they say.
  3. Rephrase. Repeat what you heard to show that you understand and are engaged in the conversation.
  4. Listen without judgment. Everyone has a unique perspective on life, and it’s essential to be open-minded when listening.
  5. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish what they are saying before you jump in with your opinion.

These are just a few examples of practicing active listening, but the important thing is giving your full attention to the person you are talking with. By doing this, you will be able to understand and appreciate the message being conveyed.

Being a good listener is essential in any relationship. Learn to be active listeners and show your partner that you care with these practical tips.

4 benefits of active listening for couples

4 benefits of active listening for couples

The skill of active listening is famous for its ability to improve relationships of all types, but it is particularly beneficial for couples. Here are some benefits that active listening has to offer:

1. It fosters understanding and empathy

Because you’re listening to each other without judgment, it allows you to understand each other better and build a stronger connection. And it encourages empathy and understanding by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

What’s more, by listening to each other’s stories, you can learn more about the person and gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.

2. Solving problems becomes easier

When you’re not talking over each other or trying to win an argument, it’s easier to solve conflicts and reach a compromise. Active listening helps create trust in the relationship, which is essential for problem-solving. 5

The skill of active listening doesn’t require you to interrupt each other or try to prove a point. Instead, it’s all about understanding the other person and giving them a safe space to express themselves.

3. You see each other more positively

Active listening helps you appreciate and see the best in your partner. Because you’re taking the time to listen and understand each other, this skill allows you to see the person positively. 6

This can help improve your relationship, as it creates a bond of mutual respect and trust. And it allows you to build on each other’s strengths, which can result in a stronger, healthier relationship.

4. Fewer conflicts

Often, arguments and misunderstandings arise from not listening carefully to each other. And while disagreements are normal in any relationship, actively listening to each other can help reduce unnecessary arguments and conflict.

If you’re not trying to win an argument for its sake or to prove a point, then disagreements are solved more quickly and efficiently. As a result, both of you can move forward without feeling frustrated or resentful.

While active listening can help couples in various ways, it’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. For the best results, all parties should practice active listening to ensure everyone is heard and respected.

There are numerous ways that active listening can help you to strengthen your relationships. Learn the benefits of active listening and how it can make a difference in communicating with your partner.

5 characteristics of an active listening partner

5 characteristics of an active listening partner

Think you’re ready to become an active listener? Here are five characteristics that make up an effective listener:

1. Attentive

Paying attention to your partner’s words and non-verbal action is essential for active listening. This means being present in the conversation and not letting your thoughts wander.

Of course, it’s impossible to focus every single time, so if your mind starts to wander off, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just take a moment to acknowledge that your mind wandered off to your partner, ask them to repeat what they said, and refocus on the conversation.

2. Open-minded

It’s essential to be open-minded when listening to your partner. As an active listener, you should be willing to hear their point of view and consider different perspectives.

Being open-minded will help you understand each other better and find common ground. It also allows you to have a more meaningful conversation and build trust in the relationship.

3. Mindful

Being mindful means being aware of your partner’s feelings and needs. It also involves being conscious of the words you use, as well as the tone in which you speak.

Being mindful means respecting your partner and not saying that could hurt or offend them. This will help create a safe space for both of you to express yourselves and a satisfying relationship. 7 8

4. Non-judgmental

When listening to your partner, it’s important not to judge them. Even if you disagree with their viewpoint or actions, suspending judgment and accepting their feelings is essential.

This doesn’t mean you should agree with everything they say or do, but rather simply be understanding and respectful of them. Because, in the end, understanding each other is what builds trust and strengthens relationships.

5. Responsive

Active listening isn’t just about listening, it’s also about responding to your partner meaningfully. And this doesn’t necessarily mean you should give advice or provide solutions, but rather acknowledge and validate their feelings.

A responsive environment in your relationship makes you and your partner feel seen and heard. Feeling accepted for who you are in a relationship can result in a stronger bond between the two of you. 9

These are just some of the characteristics that make up an active listener. With practice, you can develop these skills and become a better listener. Being an active listener helps create stronger relationships and allows both partners to express themselves freely and openly.

Do you struggle to communicate effectively with your partner? Try these tips for active listening and get back on the path toward a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.

6 Ways to improve your active listening skills

6 Ways to improve your active listening skills

Being an active listener doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be practiced and developed. Over time, you can get better at it by following these simple tips.

Learn how active listening can help foster better communication in relationships and improve understanding between partners. Explore exercises you can do together for lasting results.

1. Practice maintaining eye contact

Maintaining eye contact is one of the most important aspects of active listening. It shows your partner that you are paying attention and interested in what they say.

So, next time you’re conversing with your partner, maintain eye contact and practice focusing on their words. If you’re uncomfortable with this, try looking at their forehead or between their eyes instead.

2. Echo back

When your partner is talking, take a moment to repeat what they just said. This will help you ensure that you heard them correctly and let them know their words are being listened to and understood.

You can either repeat back what they said word for word or paraphrase it in your own words. Either way, repeating back will help your partner feel heard and appreciated.

3. Ask follow-up questions

Asking follow-up questions shows that you are genuinely engaged in the conversation. Not only will it help your partner feel heard, but it will also give you more insight into their thoughts and feelings.

So, when your partner is talking, ask meaningful questions to help you understand their perspective better. This will make your conversations more meaningful and enriching for both of you.

4. Use verbal cues to show you’re listening

Using verbal cues, such as saying “yes” or “uh-huh,” is another great way to show your partner you’re listening. This will help them feel like they are being truly heard and understood.

Of course, use this when appropriate, and don’t overdo it, as too much of it can distract and disrupt the conversation.

5. Avoid giving unsolicited advice

One of the most important things to remember when practicing active listening is to avoid giving unsolicited advice. Even with good intentions, offering your opinion or advice can make your partner feel you’re not truly listening to them.

So, unless your partner asks for your advice, focus on listening and providing emotional support. If you feel like giving advice, try to hold back and suggest it only when they are ready to hear it.

6. Pay attention to non-verbal language

It’s not just the words we use that convey our thoughts and feelings, but also our body language. So, while actively listening, pay attention to your and your partner’s non-verbal cues.

For example, if your partner avoids eye contact or crosses their arms, that could be a sign that they feel uncomfortable. Attention to these subtle signs can help you understand your partner better and make the conversation more meaningful.

The art of active listening is an invaluable skill for effective communication, and effective communication is the key to any successful relationship. Discover how having honest and effective conversations can help you maintain a strong connection with those you love.

FAQs about active listening

FAQs about active listening

1. What are the four types of active listening?

Active listening is a crucial communication skill involving focusing on the speaker and understanding their message. There are four types of active listening, and they are:

  1. Appreciative listening: This type of listening is used when we want to enjoy or appreciate something. It can be anything from music to a story; the listener is trying to find something to understand in the message.
  2. Empathic listening: When we use empathic listening, we try to understand the feelings and emotions behind a message. We put ourselves in the speaker’s shoes and connect with their feelings.
  3. Comprehensive listening: Comprehensive listening is used to understand a message’s content. We analyze and comprehend what is being said and try to gain a better understanding of the speaker’s message.
  4. Critical listening: This type of active listening is used when we want to evaluate a message. To do this, we use our judgment to assess the speaker’s ideas and determine if they are accurate or valid.

Each type of active listening is essential, and being able to use them effectively can lead to better communication and understanding between people.

2. What are 7 key active listening skills?

Active listening involves more than just hearing the words that someone is saying. It requires intentional effort to understand the speaker’s perspective and communicate that understanding to them. Here are seven critical active listening skills:

  1. Pay attention: This means focusing on the speaker and their message, avoiding distractions and interruptions. It involves giving the speaker your undivided attention and using nonverbal cues such as eye contact and nodding to show you are engaged.
  2. Show empathy: Empathy means understanding and sharing the speaker’s feelings. It involves acknowledging the speaker’s emotions, validating their experience, and communicating your understanding of their perspective.
  3. Clarify: Clarification is asking questions to ensure you understand the message accurately. It involves seeking clarification on specific points, summarizing the speaker’s message to check for understanding, and asking open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to share more information.
  4. Reflect: When you reflect, you repeat the speaker’s statements in your own words. This helps ensure that both parties understand each other and ensure nothing is misinterpreted.
  5. Paraphrase: Paraphrasing is a great way to demonstrate that you have understood the speaker’s message and can be used to provide feedback or ask for clarification.
  6. Avoid judgment: Suspending your biases and opinions while listening can help create a more open and respectful atmosphere. It is crucial to approach the conversation with an open mind and focus on understanding the speaker’s point of view.
  7. Respond appropriately: Once you have heard and understood the speaker’s message, it is important to respond appropriately. This could involve offering solutions, suggesting, or simply thanking the speaker for sharing their thoughts.

By mastering these active listening skills, you can become a better communicator and a stronger listener.

3. What are the 5 stages of active listening?

Active listening is a process that involves several stages. Each stage builds on the previous one and helps the listener to understand and respond to the speaker’s message more effectively. Here are the five stages of active listening:

  1. Receiving: This stage involves hearing the speaker’s words and paying attention to nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language.
  2. Understanding: Here, the listener tries to comprehend what is being said and looks for hidden meanings or underlying messages.
  3. Evaluating: This stage involves assessing the speaker’s message and determining if it is valid or accurate.
  4. Remembering: This stage involves retaining the information and committing it to memory. It requires the listener to actively engage with the message and use memory techniques such as repetition and association to remember essential details.
  5. Responding: Lastly, this stage involves providing feedback to the speaker to show that their message has been heard and understood. It requires the listener to use verbal and nonverbal cues to respond appropriately and provide helpful and constructive feedback.

Of course, active listening is much more than simply going through these five stages. Becoming an effective listener requires effort and practice, but the rewards can be immense.

4. Why is active listening important in a relationship?

Active listening is essential in a relationship because it helps partners communicate effectively, understand each other better, and build stronger connections. When one partner is speaking, the other partner’s active listening skills can help them to:

  1. Understand the speaker’s perspective: Active listening allows partners to see the situation from each other’s perspective. It helps them understand each other’s thoughts, feelings, and needs, leading to more empathy and compassion in the relationship.
  2. Build trust: When partners actively listen to each other, they show that they care about the other person’s feelings and opinions. This can help to build trust and deepen the emotional connection between partners.
  3. Resolve conflicts: Active listening can help partners resolve conflicts more effectively by allowing them to express their feelings and concerns in a safe and supportive environment. It can also help them find common ground and work together to solve problems.
  4. Improve communication: Active listening can improve communication between partners by reducing misunderstandings and improving clarity. When partners feel heard and understood, they are more likely to communicate openly and honestly.

Even in more established and long-term relationships like marriages, active listening is important because it helps partners to stay connected and keep their relationships strong.

Learn why communication is essential and how active listening can help improve your marriage.

5. What makes a good listener?

A good listener can effectively listen to and understand another person’s message. They are patient, open-minded, and non-judgmental.

They actively pay attention to the speaker and demonstrate that they are listening by providing verbal and nonverbal cues such as eye contact, head nods, and facial expressions. A good listener can also remember important conversation details and respond appropriately.

This skill is especially important in new relationships, where you’re trying to get to know someone and build trust. Learn the importance of active listening and how it can help you form a deeper connection in new relationships.

6. Is active listening important in long-distance relationships?

Contrary to popular belief, active listening is as critical in long-distance relationships as in close ones. Long-distance couples must rely heavily on communication to stay connected and strengthen their relationships.

Couples may struggle to understand each other’s perspectives without active listening skills, leading to misunderstandings and disagreements. Active listening can help long-distance couples to stay connected, even when they’re far apart.

Learn about how you can still use active listening in a long-distance relationship.

7. What is the meaning of active listening?

Active listening is a communication skill that involves listening carefully to another person’s message and responding to show you have heard and understood them. This skill is important in all conversations, from professional settings to personal relationships. 2

When using active listening, the listener is focused on understanding the speaker’s message and determining the underlying meaning. This means they pay close attention to what is being said, ask questions when needed, and use memory techniques such as repetition and association.

Active listening involves more than just hearing the words of the speaker. It requires the listener to use verbal and nonverbal cues to respond appropriately and provide helpful and constructive feedback.

  1. Weger, H., Bell, G. C., Minei, E., & Robinson, M. J. (2014). The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13–31. ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Rogers, A., & Welch, B. (2009). Using standardized clients in the classroom: An evaluation of a training module to teach active listening skills to social work students. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 29(2), 153-168. ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Gordon, T. (1975). PET, parent effectiveness training. ↩︎

  4. Reis, H. T., & Shaver, P. (1988). Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck, D. F. Hay, S. E. Hobfoll, W. Ickes, & B. M. Montgomery (Eds.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research and interventions (pp. 367–389). Oxford, UK: Wiley. ↩︎

  5. Reznik, R. M., Roloff, M. E., & Miller, C. W. (2012). Components of integrative communication during arguing: Implications for stress symptoms. Argumentation and Advocacy, 48(3), 142-158. ↩︎

  6. Schilling, E. A., Baucom, D. H., Burnett, C. K., Allen, E. S., & Ragland, L. (2003). Altering the course of marriage: the effect of PREP communication skills acquisition on couples’ risk of becoming maritally distressed. Journal of family psychology, 17(1), 41. ↩︎

  7. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hachette Books. ↩︎

  8. Kappen, G., Karremans, J. C., Burk, W. J., & Buyukcan-Tetik, A. (2018). On the Association Between Mindfulness and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: the Role of Partner Acceptance. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1543–1556. ↩︎

  9. Petrican, R., Burris, C. T., Bielak, T., Schimmack, U., & Moscovitch, M. (2011). For my eyes only: gaze control, enmeshment, and relationship quality. Journal of personality and social psychology, 100(6), 1111–1123. ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

Read full bio

Get the official app 😍

PumPum® app icon


For iPhone & Android
Browse all articles