Active Listening

Samantha Palm
Samantha Palm, MHRM, SHRM-SCP

Table of Contents

How many times have you been listening but don’t remember what was said? Were you busy trying to come up with a response before the speaker was finished? Were you distracted by your phone? If so, it is time to learn and apply the important skill of active listening!

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What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is listening with full attention and clear headspace. When actively listening, the listener is trying to grasp the full concept of what is being said without coming up with a response while the speaker is talking.

Why is Active Listening in the Workplace Important?

Active listening is important in the workplace because it is a way to show employees you respect and value what they have to say. According to Elle Kaplan on, active listening contributes to:

  • Deepened work relationships. When people are engaged in active listening, it creates positive work relationships by building trust and support. When one starts to truly listen to others, there is a feeling of teamwork and camaraderie.
  • Improved productivity. With active listening, ideas can be communicated with more understanding. This improves productivity by reducing time lost in translation and creates positive working relationships.
  • Greater self-empowerment. When you know your audience is actively listening, you feel empowered and get an extra confidence boost. As a listener, it is also empowering to know you are ready for the message and willing to give the speaker your full attention.

Verbal Active Listening Skills

Showing the speaker you are ready to listen can be done through verbal cues. These show the speaker you are ready, and that you are engaged throughout the communication. According to, some verbal active listening skills are asking open-ended questions, asking specific questions, using verbal affirmations, and using empathetic statements.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

When appropriate, ask open-ended questions to show the speaker you are engaged in what they have to say and interested in learning more. Remember to keep judgment or bias out of the questions so the speaker does not feel uncomfortable answering.

Examples of open-ended questions are, “What happened after that?” “How did you handle it?” or “Who was affected by this?”

Ask Specific Questions

When the speaker is done or has reached a pause in the conversation, ask specific, nonjudgemental questions. This gives the speaker confidence you care and are actively engaged in the conversation.

Examples of specific questions could be, “What happened after X spoke to Y?” “How did you handle it when X was taken from Y?” or “Who was affected when X gave Y that information?”

Use Verbal Affirmations

Using short, verbal affirmations shows the speaker you are listening and you understand what they are communicating. These would include short statements such as, “I see”, “I understand,” or “Yes, I see what you’re saying.”

Use Empathetic Statements

Many conversations bring up emotion and vulnerability. When listening, it can be encouraging to offer empathetic statements to show the speaker’s support and understanding.

Empathetic statements could include, “I’m so sorry you are dealing with this,” or“How can I help you through this?”

Nonverbal Active Listening Skills

There are ways to show the speaker you are listening non-verbally as well. According to, the four nonverbal methods to show you are listening are smiling, eye contact, posture, and avoiding distraction.

Facial Expressions

Giving a smile to the speaker shows you are engaged and open to listening to what they have to say. It provides encouragement to the speaker that you value hearing what they need to share. In certain situations, smiling may not be appropriate depending on the information being conveyed. In these cases, show the facial expression that is appropriate for the topic being shared.

Eye Contact

When the speaker starts to speak, make sure to give them eye contact. This demonstrates you are focused and ready to listen. If your eyes are wandering or you are looking away, the speaker may feel as though their information isn’t important or that you do not care about what they need to communicate.


When getting ready to listen, turn your whole body toward the speaker. If you only move your head, it seems as though you are only giving your attention for a short time. Show the speaker you are ready to listen for as long as they need by facing your body towards them with your head up.


Distractions can be anything from looking at your phone or computer to looking away from your work. Putting down your phone or taking your hand away from the mouse can demonstrate the speaker has your full attention. If you are still on your phone or looking at your computer, you are showing them they are not worth the time or your full attention.

Tips for Active Listening

Tip 1: Don’t Listen to Respond

Many times we are already coming up with a response before the speaker is done speaking. When we are thinking of our response, we can miss what they are saying. Don’t listen to just respond. Take time to carefully listen to what the speaker is saying before thinking of a response.

Tip 2: Be Careful When Sharing Your Experiences

Sharing experiences can be a positive way to relate to the speaker’s experience, but sometimes it can overshadow the situation. When sharing a relatable experience, be sure you’re not conveying that you are trying to “one-up” the speaker. If you catch yourself forming a response in your head before the speaker is done, stop! Try to focus back on the speaker and ask some clarifying questions if you missed some information during your thoughts.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Active Listening

An example of active listening would be putting down all distractions and focusing on the speaker with appropriate nonverbal skills, followed up with a specific question or statement.
Absolutely! Engaging in active listening can be great for employees at all levels of the company.
Yes, active listening can be taught. There are many articles available that can assist in teaching and learning active listening. In the workplace
Samantha Palm
Samantha Palm, MHRM, SHRM-SCP

Samantha is an HR professional with 9+ years of HR experience in multiple fields. She has her masters in Human Resource Management and her SHRM-SCP certification. While she has a wide variety of People experience and skills, her favorite is employee relations and employee experience. She has built an HR department from the ground up and strives to make the company culture a rewarding, enjoyable experience and takes pride in building relationships with employees Samantha is thrilled to become an HR Maverick to share her experience and keep gaining experience in the career she loves, even during her time as a stay at home mom.

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