Active listening

Note: This text is an excerpt from the zine “Who Cares - Wer sorgt sich hier um wen?” by Patriarchat Zerschmetterlinge (Instagram: @patriarchat_zerschmetterlinge).

Active listening is a conversational technique in which the listener devotes all their attention to the other person to try to understand them. This practice actually comes from the therapy and counseling setting, but can be used in any relationship. Active Listening is especially good for giving space to the feelings, desires and needs of the person telling the story. It is about detaching oneself from one's own perspectives and evaluations and trying to take the perspective of the person telling the story.

What should be taken into account?

1) Setting

Find an appropriate, if necessary quiet and pleasant place for the conversation, where there is a comfortable atmosphere and you both feel comfortable to talk and listen.

2) Nonverbal techniques

Approach the person speaking with an open, natural, and calm posture. Avoid folding your arms or using derogatory facial expressions and gestures. Instead, try to adopt more of a mirroring posture, as this will make you appear open and interested in the conversation. Don't make excuses! Try to resist the feeling of filling silence with questions or other talking points. Pauses in talking are good for the person telling the story, as it gives them a chance to catch their breath and organize thoughts.

3) Verbal Techniques


In Active Listening, inquiring should be exclusively exploratory, which means it is about asking and exploring further narrative content. Try not to open up new topics in the process. Even if it is difficult at first to ask few follow-up questions, it is advisable to wait, because in practice it is noticeable that questions often resolve themselves in the course of the conversation. It is also important that you do not ask suggestive questions, as these could already anticipate the answers or bring in your own feelings / opinions.
NEGATIVE examples of leading questions might be, "That must have made you feel bad/good/ashamed, right?"
"Surely you feel that...?" 


Paraphrasing is not just repeating what has been said, it goes beyond that. When paraphrasing, the listener repeats what he or she has heard in his or her own words to make sure that everything has been understood correctly. Again, own opinions should be completely left out. Paraphrasing should not be used in an inflationary way, but can help in longer conversations to avoid misunderstanding and give the narrator a chance to correct wrong impressions before continuing. Entry points into paraphrasing could be, "Did I understand correctly that...?", "Do you mean that...?", "You just said that...", "When you say ... does that mean ...?"


Summarizing is an appreciative way to show the person telling the story that active listening is now ending. Summaries show once again that real listening and understanding has taken place. At the same time, it requires a lot of concentration and willingness, so be gracious with yourself. Summarizing, but also the other techniques are there to be practiced! 

When to use Active Listening?

Active Listening can be especially helpful in arguments or situations where you are negotiating needs within your relationship, but also when one person is just reporting a problem. For example, you can listen to each other for a period of time, or make a habit of actively listening before suggesting solutions to the other person.