Active Listening (5 min)

Signs of Active Listening

Active listening involves both verbal and non-verbal signs.

Nonverbal Signs


  • Posture can tell a lot about both the speaker and listener in interpersonal interactions.
  • An attentive listener tends to lean slightly forward or sideways while sitting.
  • Other signs of active listening may include a slight slant of the head or resting the head on one hand.

Eye Contact

  • It is normal and encouraging for you to look at the speaker.
  • Gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for any given situation.
    • Remember to alternate your eye contact from one eye of the speaker to the other.
  • Combine eye contact with smiles and other non-verbal messages to encourage the speaker.

Facial Expressions

  • Small smiles can be used to show that you are paying attention to what is being said or as a way of agreeing or being pleased with the messages being received.
  • Combined with nods of the head, smiles can be powerful in affirming that messages are being listened to and understood.

Authentic Mirroring

  • Automatic mirroring of any facial expressions used by the speaker can be a sign of attentive listening.
  • These reflective expressions can help to show sympathy and empathy in more emotional situations.
  • Attempting to consciously mimic facial expressions can be a sign of inattention.


  • Remembering a few key points (including the name of the speaker!) reinforces that the message sent has been received and understood.
  • Remembering details, ideas and concepts from previous conversations shows that you pay attention and encourages the speaker to communicate.
  • When possible, make brief notes to act as a memory jog later. The human mind is notoriously bad at remembering details, especially for any length of time.


Verbal Signs of Active Listening

Positive Reinforcement

  • Casual and frequent use of words and phrases, such as: ‘Very good’, ‘Yes’ or ‘Mmm’ can become irritating to the speaker.   With that said, if it feels authentic to make an affirmation, go for it.
  • Succinctly explain why you are agreeing with a certain point without overdoing it.


  • Reflecting is closely repeating or paraphrasing what the speaker has said in order to show comprehension.
  • Reflection is a powerful skill that can reinforce the message of the speaker and demonstrate understanding.


  • You can demonstrate that you have been paying attention by asking relevant questions that help to clarify what the speaker said.
  • By asking relevant questions you also help to reinforce that you have an interest in what the speaker has been saying.


  • Repeating a summary of what has been said back to the speaker is a technique used by the listener to repeat what has been said in their own words.
  • Summarizing involves taking the main points of the received message and reiterating them in a logical and clear way, giving the speaker chance to correct if necessary.

The strategy of asking open-ended questions—instead of closed-ended or leading questions—is a useful tool for good listening.