Autistic in NYC

Resources and new ideas for the autistic adult community in the New York City metro area.

Active Listening


"Active listening," also known as "reflective listening," is a methodology originally developed by Carl Rogers in the 1950s for use by psychotherapists. But it was soon popularized as being useful for everyone, not just psychotherapists, in many different professions and many different contexts.

The methodology of "active listening" seems to be widely encouraged in corporate America, at least in principle. I have no idea how widely it is actually practiced, but Googling the string "active listening business management" or "active listening job interview" does bring up lots of results (most of which are not included among the links below). It is apparently regarded as a very desirable skill.

So not only we, but also the NT's in our lives, could benefit from learning "active listening" techniques if they have not done so already, not only to help them communicate better with us, but also as a possible benefit to their own careers.

Note: "Active listening" has some aspects that are very difficult for many autistic and similarly neurodivergent people, but it has other aspects that are much easier. And the good news is that, in terms of improved communication and conflict prevention/resolution, we can get a lot of mileage out of just the relatively easy parts, ignoring the more difficult parts, of the "active listening" methodology. (That's been true in my experience, at least.)

Many of us will have extreme difficulty with the nonverbal stuff (eye contact, body language, etc.). And many of us will have difficulty with tentatively naming the other person's feelings (which, if done inappropriately, can all too easily come across as patronizing and/or overly intimate, rather than empathic).

But I think many of us can probably learn, without too much difficulty, to paraphrase and ask good clarifying questions about the content of what the person we are talking to is saying. Some of us already tend naturally to do this -- and some of u s may overdo it.

Many NT's do not have the latter, more content-oriented set of active listening skills -- which is why there are so many online tutorials about "active listening," some of which are listed on this page.

Though NT's may, on average, be much better than we could ever hope to be at picking up on all manner of odds and ends of unspoken social subtleties (at least when talking to other NT's), and though they may be much better at shifting their attention around amongst multiple people in a room or multiple topics in a conversation, they are not necessarily any better than many of us are at listening to or understanding the actual explicit content of what another person is saying in a single topic-focused one-on-one conversation, nor are they necessarily any better at asking intelligent questions about same.

For those of us who have difficulty speaking or processing other people's speech but are better at written/typed communication, the purely content-oriented aspects of the "active listening" methodology can be applied just as well to written/typed communication as to spoken communication.

Many of us do have more trouble than NT's with absorbing too much and/or too varied content (spoken or written) all at once. But the interactions of the "active listening" methodology naturally break the content up into smaller, more digestible chunks.

So I think many of us are probably just as capable as most NT's of learning most of the purely content-oriented aspects of "active listening." On the other hand, as for the nonverbal stuff, some of us will just have to excuse ourselves and let people know that we can't do NT eye contact rhythms. Once people get used to us and get to know us well, they can learn to recognize when we are or are not paying attention to them.

Benefits of active listening

Before we get to the tutorials, here are pages about some of the benefits of active listening:

Tutorials on active listening

Below are some brief tutorials on active listening:

And here are some longer, more in-depth tutorials on active listening:

If you ever have occasion to advise, tutor, or "coach" another person, here's how active listening can help:

Tutorials on general listening skills

Below are some tutorials on general listening skills, not specifically the "active listening" methodology. In order to practice active listening effectively, it's necessary to have more general listening skills as well.

Active listening and ASD

For those of us with co-occurring ADHD

Discussion about the tutorials on this page

See the Wrong Planet thread Active listening for some discussion about the tutorials on this page.

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