by Mona Pereth
- Benefits of active listening
- Tutorials on active listening
- Tutorials on general listening skills
- Active listening and ASD
- For those of us with co-occurring ADHD
- Discussion about the tutorials on this page
"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:
The Benefits of Active Listening by Rose Mathews, Pen & Pad, updated November 21, 2016. The benefits discussed in this article are: (1) "Avoid Misunderstandings," (2) "Build Relationships," (3) "Improve Productivity," and (4) "Overcome Disagreement."
3 reasons why active listening is a must-have skill, on SEEK, a career advice site based in Australia. The reasons discussed here are: (1) "Earn the trust and respect of your peers," (2) "Understand issues and formulate better solutions," and (3) "Active listening can help you diffuse conflict."
Want to Make Difficult Conversations Easy? Try This 1 Counterintuitive Trick, According to Psychology by Scott Mautz, Inc. The anxiety you feel before entering a tough conversation can be greatly mitigated. (Another copy here.)
Active Listening Lessons From FBI Negotiators That Will Get You What You Want by Thomas Oppong, Ladders, October 14, 2019. (Another copy here.) Note: There's no guarantee that active listening will "get you what you want," but it can certainly improve your chances of a good outcome.
Tutorials on active listening
Below are some brief tutorials on active listening:
Active Listening: A Key Professional Skill, Zip Recruiter, November 28, 2017
Tutorial pages on the Skills You Need website:
Active Listening: How to do it, Greater Good in Action (GGIA), University of California in Berkeley (see also "Why to try it" by clicking tab)
Active Listening, U.S. Department of State
Reflective Listening, University of New South Wales (Australia)
And here are some longer, more in-depth tutorials on active listening:
Learn About Active Listening Skills With Examples, by Alison Doyle, The Balance: Careers, updated November 24, 2020.
Become a Better Listener: Active Listening by John M. Grohol, Psy.D., Psych Central, May 17, 2016
Active Listening: The Master Key to Effective Communication, Farnam Street
If you ever have occasion to advise, tutor, or "coach" another person, here's how active listening can help:
Use Active Listening to Coach Others: Develop Your Active Listening Skillset, Center for Creative Leadership
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.
10 Steps To Effective Listening by Dianne Schilling, Forbes, Nov 9, 2012
Tutorial pages on the Skills You Need website:
Tutorial pages on People Communicating blog:
The Art of Listening: How Open Are Your Ears? A Quiz on 5 good and 3 bad listening habits that help or hinder relationships, by Susan Heitler Ph.D., Resolution, Not Conflict, Psychology Today, Nov 29, 2011
Active listening and ASD
Inside My Autistic Mind: Active Listening by Nathan Selove, Sep 4, 2019 - a funny video showing some of the pitfalls of trying to imitate NT body language.
Active Listening Reimagined, Organization for Autism Research (OAR), February 17, 2016
Active Listening and Autism, The Autistic Me blog, February 07, 2011. Note: This article uses the term "active listening" in a more general sense than the specific methodology known as " "active listening"" It seems to me that the methodology (or at least the verbal, content-oriented aspect thereof) eases some of the cognitive difficulties that would otherwise make "active listening" in the more general sense difficult or "impossible" for many autistic people.
For those of us with co-occurring ADHD
How Adults with ADHD Can Become Better Listeners by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., PsychCentral, March 31, 2014
How I Taught Myself to Listen Despite My ADHD by Adam Dachis, Lifehacker, 3/17/2014
How can I improve my listening skills if I have adult ADD? by Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, ShareCare
Listen Up! Listening When You Have ADHD by Laura Rolands, ADHD Coach, My Attention Coach, April 26, 2010
5 Ways to Be a Better Listener by Sandy Maynard, MS, ADDitude, updated on February 18, 2020
Are You Listening? by Michele Novotni, Ph.D., ADDitude, updated on November 6, 2020
Adult ADHD: Speak Up! I'm not Listening by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, SelfGrowth.com
Discussion about the tutorials on this page