Active listening and responding

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1. What is active listening?
Active listening helps the person feel accepted, heard, understood and safe.
It earns the trust of the person
It helps build rapport
It helps you to enable the person to be heard and perhaps to solve their own problems
  • It’s really hard to listen carefully when we have a lot to say.
  • We can be tempted to give advice, information, reassurance, similar experiences, opinions.
  • We need to notice, listen and respond

The following video is from GCF Global

2. How to actively listen

Download this check list to keep download

  • Make eye contact
  • Don't ignore what you don't understand
  • Don't focus too much on the details and miss the big picture
  • Don't rush the person
  • Don't think ahead: don't anticipate what the person is going to say
  • Don't interrupt and lose focus on what the person is saying
  • Listen to everything the person is telling you before you decide what to say to them
  • Don't be distracted by what's going on around you
  • Shutdown your internal dialogue


Show that you're listening:
  • Use positive body language
  • Nod your head and smile appropriately as the person is talking to show  that you're taking in what they are saying
Listen with all your senses:
  • Pick up verbal as well as verbal cues that tell you about the person's needs e.g. does the person's tone and body language tell you that they are tired, agitated or in distress?

The following video is from MindToolsVideos

3. Reflect back

Check the person's information by paraphrasing key points.  Don't assume that you understand correctly.  Don't assume that the person knows you've heard them.  Reflecting back shows that you emphatically understand that person

4. Questioning techniques

Ask open-ended questions about anything that is ambiguous or unclear

A closed question is simply one that the participant can answer 'yes' or 'no' to.

For example: Do you want a print-out of this information?

An open question requires a response with  more detail, and invites the person responding to provide information into how they feel and what they think about a subject.

Open questions often begin with "What", "How" and "Why."   Examples include:

  • What would you like to know about this condition?
  • Can I ask why you are looking for this information?
  • How would you like to access the information - for example, written material, online resources?

Types of open question

Probing questions

  • Encourage the person to give more in-depth information about their needs
  • What? How?
  • Can you tell me more about what you want/need to know about ...?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • Can you explain further?

Clarifying questions

Identify the specific aspects of the topic or elicit more facts. Sometimes you may  need to ask closed questions to get specific information. Examples include: 

  • What is it about XX that you are looking for?
  • There are many different types of XX. What would you like to know about?
  • Do you need current or historical information

Questions to clarify what the person already knows

  • E.g. if the person has had diabetes for a long time and knows a lot about it they won’t want introductory information
  • What sources have you tried already?
  • What have you already found out about xxx?

Focusing questions

Focusing questions elicit the specific information the person is looking for, so that you can focus your search down to the most relevant information. For example:

  • Unfocused question: What would you like to know about diabetes?
  • Focused question: What types of exercise would you be willing to undertake? How intense can the exercise be? 

To confirm your understanding, you may also find it helpful to paraphrase what the other person has said - e.g:

  • "In other words you are saying....."
5. Summarise

Show you’ve heard and understood that the person has said  Confirm your shared understanding of the person’s need

6. Respond to the person's lead

Follow the flow of the person’s thoughts as they tell you about their need  Pick up the points they mention and ask them to expand on them  For example, a person asking for information about local care homes for people with dementia might have a much wider range of information and support needs for themselves and their family

7. Check your knowledge


8. Don't tell, ASK
What do you do if you don't know how to help someone because you don't know what to tell them?

If someone asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. And then you can work together with the person to find out more about what they need.

The best way to help is to ask questions with empathy:
  • That way the person is control
  • By asking questions, you can help the person to find their own answers
  • What? Where? When? How?
  • Don’t ask Why? It can sound challenging and put the person on the defensive
Start the conversation so that these questions are raised.
You can work with the person to look for the answers
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