The Four Components of Active Listening

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There are four basic components to successful active listening and the responsibility for these elements are on the listener. The components are as follows:


Acceptance is about having respect for the person you are talking to, not on the basis of what they have to say, but rather based on the simple fact that they are a human being who has the right to express their thoughts. This acceptance should be as unconditional as possible; with the condition that there may be instances where the beliefs or opinions expressed are so contrary to your moral and ethical standards or they are legally questionable morality that acceptance must be withdrawn.

Accepting means trying to avoid expressing agreement or disagreement with what the other person is saying, at least initially. This encourages the other person fully express their message without the need to feel defensive or threatened. When you assume an accepting posture you remain open as someone ready to learn and grow from the input of another person. Depending on your back ground this may take some practice. Start by listening and only speaking to ask question. These questions should be designed to learn more about the other person’s message. Avoid argumentative questions but rather ask sincere questions to understand the topic of discussion.

When rebuttal become necessary, you will find greater success if you have supported and investigated the message before presenting an argument to the contrary. This method of communication builds relationship and trust between you and the person with you are speaking.


This is usually interpreted as the listener’s ability to understand the speaker’s situation on an emotional level, based on the listener’s own frame of reference rather than a sense of what should be felt which is sympathy, not empathy. In other words, to empathize with the speaker, you should know how they are feeling because you have experienced the same or very similar feelings yourself. For example, you cannot properly have empathy with a bereaved individual unless you have experienced a similar loss of a loved one.

Empathy may also be defined as the listener’s desire to feel the speaker’s emotions, regardless of their own experience, but this does not really get to the heart of the matter. True empathy is a rare and powerful emotional ability, and requires that a genuine emotional reaction in the listener based on personal experience.


This is self-explanatory. This refers to openness, frankness, and genuineness on the part of the listener. This means that the listener is open about their reactions to what they have heard. This must necessarily come after the acceptance component, and once the speaker has completed. Honest reactions given too soon can easily stifle further discourse on the part of the speaker.

To fully understand and respond productively, the listener needs to apply an honest reply. This reply should be presented in as humble a manner as possible. Once again relationship is at the heart of active listening.


This refers to the need to deal in details rather than generalities. Often, a person who has a problem will avoid painful feelings by being abstract or impersonal. They may speak about general situations that “other people” experience, without directly involving themselves or suggesting that they are in any way affected. For communication to be worthwhile, the listener should therefore request that the speaker is more specific. This may necessitate a direct challenge to the speaker to open up on a personal level and “own” the problem they are talking about.

Clearly, this could work two ways. For these four components to work effectively, they should be clearly evident in the listener. While some people may speak openly in the hope that their listener will respond correctly, others desire signs that their message is hitting its mark. This is a decidedly tough task, especially in a business environment where the two people may be manager and employee and have little knowledge of how the other person usually behaves. In this case, it has more to do with the speaker’s intuitive assessment of the listener than on the listener’s ability to create the perfect listening qualities.


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