Effective Listening

Lesson Content

Inquire: Being a Good Listener


Listening is one of the most important skills a student will develop during their college career. This lesson focuses on communicating to an audience, why an audience ought to listen, how to actively listen, and how to listen with empathy. One reason people should listen is to receive feedback. If someone has done an inadequate job, listening can help inform that person about ways to do better in the future. This lesson will also explain how to effectively listen to feedback.


Big Question

How does someone effectively listen?

Read: The Skill of Listening


In this section, students will learn about communicating with an audience, why an audience ought to listen, how to actively listen, and how to listen with empathy.

Purpose of Communication

Try to write a one-sentence definition of communication. It is quite hard and may feel like nailing Jell-O to a wall. The best way to define communication, though, is by explaining its purpose. Communication is the process of using symbols to exchange meaning. At the end of the day, humans communicate in order to exchange meaning. This could mean talking to a friend about where to meet for lunch, explaining what a word means, or conveying which political party someone supports using a bumper sticker. All of these are communication and serve the same purpose: exchanging meaning with someone else.


DecorativeThe audience is anyone who receives a speaker’s message. It sounds vague, but it really is that simple. The audience is simply someone who receives the message. However, this does not mean that everyone who receives the message is the intended audience. There are intentional audiences, the people to whom a speaker’s message is directed, and unintentional audiences, who receive a speaker’s message when the speaker did not deliberately choose to send it to that person or group. The intended audience is a group of people, or a person, for whom the speaker adapts the message. The speaker wants them to receive the message in the most effective way possible.

Motivation for Listening

Listening is when a person gives their attention to the sounds being heard. Listening is what allows one person to understand the words another person says, rather than simply acknowledging that noise is happening. Everyone should listen during conversations and presentations. The primary motivation of listening is to understand what is being said. Too often, people listen simply to respond, trying to figure out enough of what is being said in order to formulate the perfect response to that person. Instead, listening should allow someone to understand how to carry on a successful conversation with the other person. This is where active listening comes in. Active listening is a step beyond normal listening and will allow for more useful conversations.

Steps to Active Listening

DecorativeActive listening requires the receiver of a message to pay full attention to the message, respond to the original message, and be able to repeat the message back to the person. This is often characterized by a listener nodding their head and providing small amounts of verbal feedback when appropriate. Active listening is a skill used in several professions, including medicine and counseling. In someone’s everyday life, active listening can be useful when providing support or advice to a friend or coworker dealing with a difficult situation. Active listening skills show a commitment of support to the person someone is listening to. It also helps a person to remember and understand the messages heard throughout the day. Practicing active listening daily leads to becoming a better team player and friend.

Listening as a Form of Empathy

Listening does not always serve a practical or productive purpose. One of the strongest uses of listening is listening for empathy. When a friend is having a bad day, having someone that will listen can lift their spirits to turn the bad day around. Active listening is a great way to listen with empathy to help others when trouble calls. Empathetic listening is the foundation of counseling, but counselors are not the only people who can or should use empathetic listening. When practicing empathetic listening, keep an open mind and do not offer solutions for problems. Do not try to upstage the person talking. Instead, hear what is being said and allow the speaker to vent any frustrations they might have. Once they have finished venting, the listener can then start asking the person what help might be needed. Often, simply having someone willing to listen can be enough.

Reflect: Active Listening


How often do you use active listening each day?

Expand: Listening to Feedback


One reason people should listen is to receive feedback. If someone has done an inadequate job, listening can help inform that person of the ways to do better in the future. This section will explain how to effectively listen to feedback.

Knowing What Feedback to Consider

Throughout life, everyone receives feedback from many sources. However, this feedback isn’t always relevant. There are a few ways to know if the feedback is worth incorporating.

DecorativeFirst, one should always listen to feedback given by an employer. In these cases, the employer is telling an employee how to do something in order to improve performance. So, even if the employee disagrees, they should follow through with what the employer thinks should be changed.

Second, when receiving feedback from a person more experienced in a given field, the receiver should seriously consider the advice. If the more experienced person has been successful in the field and recommends a change to something, there is almost certainly a reason for it.

That said, advice is not always worth incorporating. If the person offering advice has no experience in a field or can’t explain why they think their advice will make something better, it might not be beneficial to take the advice. Note, this doesn’t mean that the receiver should be rude or ignore the advice without thought. It’s important to be considerate of other people’s thoughts, even if they aren’t an expert on the topic.

No matter who offers advice, do not automatically dismiss it. Instead, think about what their advice is and why they might recommend it. It is one thing to make a change just because someone recommended it. It is another to understand why they want to change something. It will help a person grow in unexpected ways if they not only change something when told, but figure out why that change should be made in the first place.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

Lesson Resources

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Additional Resources and Readings

How to Improve Listening Skills

A video describing ways to improve listening skills

How to Respond to Negative Feedback

A video that outlines ways to respond to negative feedback

5 Ways to Listen Better | Julian Treasure

A video with tips for better listening skills

Lesson Glossary


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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Alexander Amos for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Media Sources

DecorativeCup DrinksrawpixelPixabayCC 0
DecorativeGroup Team FeedbackgeraltPixabayCC 0
DecorativeMan Standing In Front Of PeopleICSAPexelsCC 0
DecorativeListen Informal MeetingjamesoladujoyePixabayCC 0