Active Listening: The Skill of Paying Attention

Active Listening

I wrote and taught a training in Active Listening when I was a supervisor at a call center for Pacific Bell Internet.

I first learned Active Listening  as a volunteer at a Crisis Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

I discovered a draft of this training while sorting through old files.

I realized when I read it that Active Listening is an all-purpose skill that is relevant for people with mental health issues and for their families.

The skill of quieting the mind to attend to the words of another person is invaluable, especially for those of us who must cope with perceptual and emotional distortions.

I’ve left most of the text as it was.

The original title of the training is, ACTIVE LISTENING: The Skill of Providing Quality Customer Service.

However, I now call it: Active Listening: A great Social Skill in General.

Premise: Technical people may understand the subtle differences in similar types of new technology but may not understand that a frustrated caller is not making a personal attack.

The Support Center is pivotal to delivering technical support and information about new products.

The Technical Analyst must have the technical skills and the ability to speak effectively to frustrated clients.

Our agents must appreciate that our customers are not an interruption.

Every customer is different. Our agents must recognize these differences and adjust themselves.

When we make sure that our agents use these skills we proactively reduce stress and turnover in staff.

We also guarantee consistent service to our customers.


The process of gathering information, ideas, attitudes, and emotions for promoting the listener’s capacity to understand another person.

 The theory behind Active Listening is this:

When one genuinely tries to understand another person’s point of view, that person feels cared about and is likely to respond in kind.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the differences between passive and active listening and know when to use each
  • Use acceptance responses to communicate to the customer that he/she is being heard without interrupting the flow of thought
  • Repeat verbatim critical elements of the conversation to verify that you understand.
  • Paraphrase what the customer says to confirm understanding
  • Ask clarifying questions to get a full and clear understanding
  • Organize and summarize key elements of the conversation to assure understanding
  • Utilize active listening skills to strengthen the bonds of trust and rapport
  • Understand that until the customer feels that the situation is completely understood, the customer will resist solutions
  • Learn to use transition sentences to propose a different point of view without humiliating the customer

 Active Listening Skills:

  • Allow the speaker to speak without interruption
  • Demonstrate interest by asking the speaker to elaborate.
  • Demonstrate empathy for the speaker’s feelings
  • Clarify the subtext of the message by restating the subject.
  • Be aware of nonverbal messages such as sighing. 
  • Stay away from sounding critical.
  • Eliminate distractions

Active listening proceeds in two phases:

  1. Attending (aware of the other person)
  2. Following, or verifying that you have accurately determined the speaker’s meaning
  • Attending skills involve staying silent and keeping one’s body language open (essential for telephone calls)
  • Following skills involve questioning, reflection and summarizing.

Top causes of misunderstandings:

  • You presume that you KNOW the speaker’s thoughts or feelings.
  • You think about your response while the speaker is talking
  • You listen for what you want to hear
  • You drift off during the conversation
  • Identifying; referring everything the speaker says to your own experience
  • Judging; assessing the speakers presentation and not listening to the ‘message’
  • Derailing; changing the subject
  • Challenging and discounting the speakers experience
  • Placating and agreeing with everything to avoid conflict

Active listening IS…

  • A conscious activity that requires the listeners full attention
  • The ability to accurately comprehend and summarize what the speaker has said
  • Completely non-judgmental
  • Open-minded

Active listening IS NOT…

  • inquiry
  • Interpreting (hearing what you want to hear)
  • Devious
  • A way of becoming superior to the customer

Customer Service Agents must ask themselves the following questions before taking a call:

  • What is the purpose of listening?
  • How will I take the information?
  • Am I ready to take notes?
  • Which listening strategies do I use best?

Agents will ask themselves the following questions DURING the call:

  • Is my strategy still working?
  • Do I clearly hear the speaker’s reason for making the call?
  • Am I listening for nonverbal clues I do not have the customer’s attention? (For instance sounds of distraction such as typing on a keyboard)?
  • Has the caller’s manner changed during the call?
  • Are my questions pertinent and my answers clear?
  • Is the call going well? If not, why not?

Use the following skills for coping with a difficult call:

  • Make sure the customer knows that he or she is your priority.
  • When a call is difficult sit up and take a deep breath. This will relax you and remove strain from your voice.
  • Speak clearly and be concise.


Matthew Robert Goldstein 09/23/2000

Blog for Mental Health 2015mhwgmember2015

13 thoughts on “Active Listening: The Skill of Paying Attention

    1. You’re right. If it’s not done properly it sounds insincere. The trick is to rephrase what you’ve heard as a question. I used to say: Let me see if I’ve understood what you’ve said.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I did this job in a bank call center for a few years and it about killed me. I had the right attitude for customer service I just couldn’t handle phone calls bumping in one after the other with no break and I would go into panic attacks. I had several every night I worked and had to go into “no call” and gather myself together. I was terrified of phones and people yelling at me right from the start. Not the job for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It takes a great deal of patience to work in a Call Center; especially in technical support when PC’s were still relatively new…certainly the Internet was new…still Dial-up and ISDN.


      1. I started in the regular queue and then was promoted to the online division. I had calls where 90 year olds were stuck on something and I had to run through every little thing to get them where they needed to be. They had no clue. I had a 4 hour call once with no break. It was just one issue after another. They told me I couldn’t go to lunch because it wasn’t my scheduled time. I told them I was on that phone for 4 hours and no breaks and I am going to lunch. Bye! That call messed my numbers up good.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s kind of where DID is an asset.

        An entire aspect of me dedicates itself to learning something…I was able to keep most of my calls under five minutes and make the caller feel loved…I don’t remember HOW I did it…but I suppose Active Listening helped..:)…

        I could never work as a waiter. I tried once and hated it so bad I started spilling things on people…Good thing I was young. Time erased that fiasco from my resume

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It is an important tool/skill for everyone. Most people who appear to be listening are really just composing what they want to say and waiting for you to shut up so they can say it. I have seen active listening used poorly, where it sounds like a parrot and ends up being condescending. There’s a skill there, that requires practice. Good article.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really love the way you write…some people really are just waiting for us to “shut-up” so they can tell us why we’re wrong. The social media version of this is the not so subtle put-down…”Do you feel stupid yet?” To which the only response is “no–why? Do you?”

      And I know what you mean about parroting.

      “Hotline! Ken speaking?”

      “I feel too thin and my breasts are huge!”

      “Sounds like you feel to thin and your breasts are huge.”

      “Are you making fun of me? Wait! What’s that sound I hear.”

      “Sounds like you hear a noise. How big are they, anyway? 🙂


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