Communication Skills: How to Use Active Listening and Open Ended Questions

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Active listening and open ended questions can be used to help conversation flow, illicit information and heal. Knowing how to use these communication skills can make you a more effective communicator and helper.

Whether you work in profession helping and supporting others, or simply want to be a more effective listener and communicator you can benefit from understanding active listening skills and open ended questions. Knowing when to use them can make communication smoother. It can also help people you talk with feel better understood.

Open ended questions

Open ended questions are the type which illicit a response which is more in depth than simply a yes or know answer. Closed questions can cut a conversation dead quickly, where-as open ended questions help conversation flow while helping you discover information.

An example of a close question is:

“Do you like it here?” - This type of question will probably receive either a yes or no as an answer.

An example of an open question is:

“What do you like about it here?” - This question is likely to result in a longer response full of valuable information.

There are several good reasons to use open ended questions. They are great ice breakers which put people at ease and begin communication, or carry it further. Open ended questions can also help you get to know another person more quickly, and find out what they think, feel or plan to do.

Closed questions are more suitable when you are in a hurry and need a quick answer rather than to gather information or develop communication with another person.

Active listening

Active listening can help the person you are listening to feel as though what they are saying is really being heard and understood. This type of listening can help people form bonds, and can be emotionally healing. People often spend a lot of time rushing through conversations, and hurrying each other to finish talking so that they can take their turn. Active listening is rarer, and is of a higher quality to non-active listening.

An example of non-active listening is:

Two people having a conversation. One is talking about something important to them. The other interrupts and says, “That reminds me of an experience I had.” They then speak over the other person and launch into their own story. The other person feels ignored, over-looked and misunderstood.

An example of active listening is:

Two people having a conversation. One is telling the other about something important to them. The person listening leans forwards towards the person to hear what they are saying. They may nod when the person talking gains eye contact with them and tilt their head to the side to really hear what’s being said.

By doing this they are showing that they are listening actively by using their body language. They move closer by leaning in, nod and tilt their head.

When the person speaking stop and looks at the listener as if waiting for a response the listener clarifies what they have heard. They do this by repeating what they’ve been told in different words.

For example:

The speaker says, “I felt sad and down.”

The listener clarifies, “You were feeling unhappy and miserable.”

When the listener replies in this manner the speak feels heard and understood. This aids the flow of the conversation.

After an affirmative nod or “yes” response that they have heard correctly the listener may then help the speaker elaborate by saying:

“What do you think was making you feel so bad?”

All the time the listener will be using their body language to confirm that they are listening. They may also make encouraging sounds such as, “hmmm”, or “Uh Huh”.

This helps the speaker carry on as they are reminded that they are being heard.

Active listening and open ended questions are invaluable communication skills which can enhance relationships and provide support to those in need.


Nora Moore
Posted on May 21, 2012
Rox B
Posted on May 18, 2011
John Smither
Posted on Apr 28, 2011