Difference Between Active And Passive Listening With Examples


Listening and speaking are important components of Effective communication. Effective communication allows the message, sender and the receiver to express themselves in and even exchange ideas. Listening is an act of making sense out of what a person hears in which case, it requires paying attention, interpreting and remembering what is being communicated. There are two types of listening-

  • Active Listening
  • Passive listening.

What Is Passive Listening?

Passive listening is a form of auditory processing where individuals absorb and interpret spoken information without actively engaging in the conversation or giving it their full attention. This type of listening can occur in contexts such as social interactions, educational settings, or even when consuming media like podcasts, music, or audiobooks.

In passive listening, the listener may not be consciously or actively participating in the conversation or content. They may be physically present but mentally distracted by other thoughts, tasks, or activities. This lack of active engagement usually lead to only a partial understanding of the information being conveyed.

Passive listening does not require any special effort other than hearing what is being said. A passive listener usually does not interrupt the speaker or perform any other action whatsoever at the same time in which the speaker is delivering his or her speech. Generally, a passive listener does not nod his or her head, make appropriate facial expression and maintain eye contacts with the speaker or engage in any other action that indicates he or she is paying attention.

in other words, passive listening often occurs when individuals are multitasking. For example, someone may be listening to a lecture while checking their email, or they might be overhearing a conversation while engaged in a different conversation or listen to the television while doing household chores. . In these situations, the listener’s primary focus is on another activity, and listening is secondary.

Examples Of When Passive Listening Is Appropriate

  • Listening to news, podcast or music at the gym.
  • Watching TV while typing a few letters on your laptop.
  • When the kids are playing in the house while you are in the bathroom.
  • Listening to podcast on your way to work.
  • Listening to praise and worship music on your way to church.
Example Passive Listening In Picture

What You need To Know About Passive Listening

  •   Passive listening is one where the receiver doesn’t provide feedback or asks questions and may or may not understand what is being communicated.
  • In passive listening, the listener has a negative attitude which is demonstrated through selective and ignoring attitude. 
  • In passive listening, the listener pays little or no consideration to everything that is being communicated. He or she pays attention to a few areas and phrases.
  • Passive listening is one way kind of communication since the listener is not interested in paying attention.
  • Passive listening results in destruction from the topic under discussion.
  • Passive listening doesn’t require much effort because the listener chooses what to pay attention to or not.
  • Passive listener hides or denies any form of reasonable engagement and thus avoiding debates or giving options.

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening involves not just hearing words but also fully engaging with the speaker, understanding their message, and providing appropriate feedback. It is a fundamental component of effective interpersonal communication, whether in personal or professional settings.

Active listening requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand the message, respond thoughtfully and remember what is being said. It involves the listener observing the speaker’s behavior and body language. Having the ability to interpret a person’s body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message.

In other words, active listening requires two-way communication and connection between the speaker and the listener. The listener isn’t just going to sit and remain silent; the active listener has a job to do in offering a response to the speaker.

Active listening starts with being fully present in the moment. You remove distractions, you put away your phone and maintain eye contact with the speaker. Your body language should convey openness and receptivity. This includes facing the speaker, leaning in slightly, and nodding to show you are engaged and encouraging them to continue.

 Examples of where active listening is very much required include, roundtable meeting discussions, job interviews, media interviews, interrogations, parliament debates, etc. Active listening is a technique that is used in counseling, training and solving disputes or conflicts. In active listening, both verbal and non-verbal techniques are used to show and keep attention on the speaker.

Non-verbal techniques include:

  • Maintaining eye contact (focusing on the other person).
  • Nodding or leaning forward a little
  • Sitting still
  • Letting the other person finish what he or she is saying without interruption
  • Interested silence (giving a person time to respond).
  • Avoiding destructions such as fidgeting, looking at the watch, doodling, playing with their hair or picking their fingernails. 

Verbal techniques Include:

  • Paraphrasing what the other person said.
  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Seeking clarification.
  • Providing feedback.
  • Being sensitive to what the other person is feeling.
  • Asking open-ended questions like “What happened?, How did it end?, How did you feel about it?

What You Need To Know About Active Listening

  • Active listening is where the receiver demonstrates through interruption, asking questions, nodding and giving responses as a sign that he or she understands what is being communicated.
  • In active listening, the listener has a positive attitude which is demonstrated through body language, eye contact and reception.
  • Empathy is a core component of active listening. Try to understand the speaker’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Reflect their emotions back to them to show that you are attuned to their perspective.
  • Active listening is a two-way communication because both the listener and the communicator are engaging one another.
  • Active listening result in a clear and deeper understanding of the topic under discussion.
  • Active listening requires effort because the listener has to be attentive.
  • Active listener engages in reasonable exchange with the communicator.
  • Examples of active listening include round-table meeting discussions, job interviews, media interviews etc.

Active vs Passive Listening: Key Differences

AspectPassive ListeningActive Listening
AttentionPartial and intermittent attention to the speaker’s words.Full and sustained attention to the speaker.
EngagementMinimal engagement with the speaker’s message.Actively engages with the speaker’s message.
InvolvementOften distracted or multitasking while “listening.”Fully present and not distracted during the conversation.
ResponsesLimited or delayed responses, if any.Provides timely and relevant responses.
EmpathyLacks empathetic responses or understanding of the speaker’s feelings.Demonstrates empathy and understanding of the speaker’s emotions.
InterruptionsMay interrupt the speaker or finish their sentences.Avoids interrupting and allows the speaker to finish.
Non-Verbal CuesMinimal non-verbal cues such as eye contact, nodding, or facial expressions.Utilizes active non-verbal cues to show engagement and understanding.
QuestionsRarely asks questions or seeks clarification.Asks open-ended questions to explore the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.
FeedbackProvides minimal or vague feedback.Offers constructive feedback or validation of the speaker’s points.
UnderstandingMay misunderstand or misinterpret the speaker’s message.Seeks to fully understand the speaker’s perspective and emotions.
JudgmentMay make premature judgments or assumptions about the speaker’s message.Suspends judgment and refrains from making assumptions.
Recall and RetentionLimited recall and retention of the speaker’s message.Better recall and retention of the speaker’s message due to active engagement.

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