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  • Dr. Teresa Edwards, LMFT

Ears Wide Open: Mastering The Techniques of Listening

Listening deeply to understand a person's heart is both a technique and an art. In this blog, we'll review some of the techniques necessary to actively listen.

The art of active listening

Being an active listener is similar to being a musician. Just as a proficient musician adeptly executes the technical aspects of music, like the key signature, tempo, and note reading, they also strive to grasp the composer's intended emotions and meaning, and then share that interpretation with the audience. This blending of technique and art takes intention, concentration, and practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Listening is an important component to every relationship. Being a proficient listener involves several techniques including removing distractions, asking the right questions, and making the speaker feel heard and understood.



To engage in active listening effectively, it's essential to create the optimal environment by turning off the television, muting your phone, and removing any other distractions that might impede your capacity to truly listen. Contrary to popular belief, research in neuropsychology shows that it is impossible for people to truly multitask. What's actually happening is that the brain is quickly shifting back and forth between tasks, which results in missed information.

Picture attending a concert to watch a virtuoso cellist, only to find them on stage performing while enjoying their favorite sitcom in the background. Wouldn't you have the sense that their heart wasn't really in the performance, and that they'd prefer to be elsewhere? If you're trying to multitask while listening to someone, then you're not fully engaged with the speaker and are sending the message that their concerns are not a top priority to you.


Being attuned means being mentally and emotionally present and focusing on understanding the speaker's perspective. This includes adopting the appropriate mindset by shifting your focus off of yourself and your priorities, and onto the other person. If you find yourself mentally preparing a response or rebuttal, then you've stopped listening. The goal is to fully understand the speaker’s perspective, even if you have differing opinions. You can show the speaker that you are tuned in through body language, such as making eye contact and nodding your head, or verbalizations, such as, "Uh-huh."

Happy couple


Reflecting may be one of the most important listening techniques. Frequently, people react to their interpretation of what was said without checking whether their interpretation was accurate. This can lead to unnecessary confusion and hurt feelings. Reflecting allows the the listener to verify their understanding of the message and allows the speaker the space to correct that understanding, if necessary.

Reflecting, when done correctly, is much more than parroting back the speaker’s words. It entails confirming your comprehension and interpretation of the message. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the emotions and non-verbal cues conveyed by the speaker.

When reflecting, avoid being judgmental or critical, redirecting the conversation to focus on yourself, and attempting to solve or fix the problem. Understanding must always precede attempts to problem solve.

Reflecting can look like:

  • What I hear you saying is...

  • It sounds like...

  • It seems like you feel...

  • I'm hearing that...


The goal of active listening is a deep understanding of the speaker's point of view. The listener can show interest and get a better understanding of what's being said by asking open-ended questions. Examples of open-ended question are:

  • How do you feel when....?

  • Why is this important to you?

  • What are your hopes for this situation?

  • What is your fear about this?

  • What do you need in this situation?

  • What do I need to know to understand your perspective?


Validating the speaker is a powerful way to express empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings, thoughts, and perspectives of another person. Empathy does not require agreement. You can understand and relate to someone's viewpoint without necessarily endorsing it. Validating statements can include messages such as:

  • I can understand why you feel that way.

  • I can see how important this is to you.

  • I can tell this situation really hurt you.

  • I would be upset too if that happened to me.

Again, refrain from trying to fix the problem or turning the conversation to your experiences or opinions. There will be time for you to be the speaker when roles are switched.

Similar to being a skilled musician, a person adept in active listening needs to embrace both the technique and the art of the process. Active listening is a necessary skill for meaningful communication and healthy relationships. It can increase feelings of intimacy in a relationship and minimize misunderstandings.

To learn about listening as an art form, check out The Art of Listening.

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