Active Listening Skills for Better Communication

Communication is such an important part of our daily lives and connecting with others that our habits can become automatic. Effective communication is often like a dance, requiring at least two people who take turns talking and listening. 

It is all too easy to find ourselves waiting for our turn to talk rather than actively listening. Luckily, there are basic skills that can help your dance partner, or the person you are talking to, know that you are paying attention and following their lead. An easy way to remember these skills is the acronym SOAR.

S – Summarize

If you ever find yourself trying to hold on to all of the information your partner is sharing with you, a good way to ensure you have captured their viewpoint is to summarize the content. This means restating in a few words what you heard them say. For example, if a co-worker gives you all the details about their European vacation by the coffee pot on Monday morning, you can say, “It sounds like you had a great time and made memories with your family.” This gives them an opportunity to correct you if you missed any pieces of the puzzle or to confirm that you understood them before they move on.

O – Open-Ended Questions
Conversations can be hard to get started or to maintain. One of the easiest ways to engage in conversation and keep the momentum going is to ask open-ended questions. The opposite, close-ended questions, are when you ask something that requires only a one-word response like yes or no. Open-ended questions encourage the other person to provide more information. A couple of common examples could be “What are your plans for the weekend?” or “How’s your family doing?” While it is possible for people to give quick responses if they are not interested in communicating, asking the question expresses interest in talking with them. In the middle of a conversation, it shows continued interest in what they are saying. For an advanced version, try changing your questions into statements that prompt engagement. For example, “Spill the tea!” or “Tell me more about what you mean by that.”

A – Affirmations

While the first two skills focus on the content of the conversation or what is being said, the next two skills focus on the emotional aspects, what is unsaid, or how things are said. An affirmation is a statement that validates the other person’s perspective. It is not accepting what they say as fact or judging what they are saying but acknowledging where they are coming from. Affirmations can be verbal, like saying “of course you are frustrated” or “no cap.” They can also be non-verbal, like head-nodding or mirroring the other person’s feelings with gestures. Many times affirmations are done unconsciously when we are engaged in a conversation with someone we care about, but done on purpose, they show our understanding of the other person and caring about their feelings.

R – Reflections

Perhaps the trickiest of the active listening skills is the act of reflection. It is taking the entire conversation into account and connecting the dots. To use this skill takes practice and shows true listening rather than hearing, and it can look a few different ways. One way to reflect a conversation is to note what the other person is not saying or has not said. Rather than ask an open-ended question, you could share that you feel confused or state what you think is missing from the conversation when things are not adding up. Another way to reflect is to notice how the person is saying things. For example, a friend might state, “I don’t really care” when it is obvious that they do care because they have been talking about it with you for weeks. Sharing what you notice with the other person shows you have been giving them your full attention, often for more than a few minutes or even over the course of several conversations. 

With these active listening skills in your pocket, you’ll be equipped to hold meaningful conversations with others and be a good listener. Using SOAR can mean the difference between listening to someone or only hearing them. Dancing isn’t fun when there are two people trying to take the lead, and the same is true for communication. 

If you find yourself struggling with effective communication with others or want a safe place to practice having hard conversations, meeting with a counselor could be helpful. Contact our intake team today.

2121 South Oneida St.
Denver, CO 80224
(720) 863-6100

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

Note: We do not accept any of the following: Bright Health, Medicare, or TriCare.
Note: Our providers do not prescribe or manage medication. For help with medication, please visit our friends at