In order to better understand people, we can start by practicing active listening. Here’s how to listen closely to what people are sharing with you, acknowledge your own interpretations, and make sense of what they are truly expressing.


Social Awareness
45 min
Pen + Paper

Active listening can help you better understand where people are coming from in any conversation, but a great place to practice is with a friend. Set up 10 minutes to talk with a friend— it could be in person, on video chat, or on the phone.


Ask your friend to tell you about something that’s on their mind right now. Do your best to simply listen, using some of these techniques for active listening:

active listening techniques

Show you’re listening
Nod your head or maybe lean in a little. Don't get distracted by what's going on around you            

Get clarification
Paraphrase back what you’re hearing or ask questions if you don’t understand

Keep the spotlight on them
Let your friend speak without interrupting, changing the topic, or sharing a story of your own

Be patient
Withhold any judgments or opinions and give your friend time to share


Let your friend know you are working on your listening skills and ask if it’s ok to capture what they are saying. As you are listening, record what you hear them say— try to write down the exact words they are using without adding your own.


Read through what you wrote. Circle the things you thought were most important from the conversation. Look for moments where your friend—


You can practice listening to understand in your day to day conversations. Try this activity again with other friends and notice how it affects your relationships. Did you learn anything new? What do you observe that you didn’t before?

Take a look at our habits below!

Be an emotionally active listener

One of the best tools we have for understanding how others feel is empathetic communication. When a friend shares something with you, check in to make sure you understood them correctly. You might say, “If I understood you correctly, you feel…”.

Listen to what people don’t say

Listening to what people are saying helps us understand them, but some of how they feel might go unsaid. Practice reading nonverbal cues, like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, to better understand how people really feel.

Encourage people to tell stories

The stories people choose to tell can say a lot about who they are. In your next conversation with a friend, notice where they get excited to share and probe deeper here— ask them to tell you more, follow up with clarifying questions, and leave space for them to elaborate.