Active listening activities for adults

Updated April 17, 2017

Hearing and actively listening are just as different as reading and understanding what you've read. Hearing is actually just the first step in mastering your listening skills. Several activities can help you learn some of the finer points of listening effectively. The first step is acknowledging that you can always be better at active listening.

Practice the Principles

Active listening involves a quiet perspective, allowing what's being heard to be learnt. To practice the fundamentals of this, watch with a partner any video with an instructional focus. Throughout the video, remain focused only on the speaker's words, avoiding all distractions, and don't prejudge anything that's being said. When it's completed, take turns summarising the core themes and overarching points.

Circle Clapping

Part of being an active listener in person, either as an audience member or in a conversation, is delivering nonverbal cues to the speaker whom you're engaged with. This includes leaning attentively forward in your seat while listening and keeping your eyes on the speaker, occasionally nodding or smiling throughout the proceedings. To practice this type of rapped attention in a group, stand in a circle and have one person turn at the waist and look at the next person in line, both clapping at the exact same time once eye contact is established. This continues to the next person in line until a rhythm emerges.

Two Talking at Once

One activity that builds confidence in active listening, available at In the Moment's staff training website, requires a group of three. One group member stands between the other two, who are facing each other. Those two have each been given a rote topic to discuss, such as birdhouse making or mail delivery. The person in the middle is tasked with carrying on a conversation with both people as they attempt to speak, without pause, about their topic. Let each group member spend at least two or three minutes in the centre position, showing how adept she is at actively listening.

Responding Actively

Developing active listening skills can particularly benefit your ascension at the office. Professor Mary Gander, of Minnesota's Winona State University, has developed a series of vignettes, each to be read and responded to in three separate sentences, that indicate ways to master active listening. The first sentence should convey empathy in some way for what the speaker is experiencing; the second should be a question that asks for further information without editorialising about the subject. The third sentence should summarise the speaker's point to help him determine whether his point was delivered. (See Resources.)

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About the Author

Dan Harkins has been a full-time journalist since 1997. Prior to working in the alternative press, he served as a staff writer and editor for daily publications such as the "St. Petersburg Times" and "Elyria Chronicle-Telegram." Harkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of South Florida.