Six key attributes of listening actively

four people sitting around a table with one person speaking and the others listening intently

For both collaboration and conflict resolution listening actively is key to understanding. All to often you have what we want to say on the top of your agenda and what you want to have happen as your primary position. However, if you want to truly collaborate and/or address conflict resolution, the real key is to listen actively. This article provides you with six key attributes to listen actively. Based on this commentary you can act to constructively apply these six key attributes to promote both collaboration and conflict resolution.




Paraphrasing means to capture what you believe you have heard from the other party in your own words to make sure you understood what was presented by the other party. It is a way to

affirm for the speaker that you are listening to not only the words, but the emotion behind those words.

If in person or virtual you are observing the facial expression, body language, tone, and actual words and then responding to demonstrate your understanding of what was said by the other party. If your paraphrasing was not quite right the other party will provide you with additional commentary to clarify what was intended. Continue to paraphrase and work the communication with the other party until the other party concurs that “yes” that is what they stated.


Ask open ended questions


Open ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no and require the recipient to expand on an answer. By asking open ended questions and follow up open ended questions this allows you to dive deeper and explore interests that may not have been uncovered otherwise.

Example open ended questions are:

  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What worries or concerns do you have?
  • What would it take for you to feel satisfied?
  • What have we not covered that you would like me to know?
  • Are there any other concerns or problems?

Open ended questions like these can be extremely helpful for both collaboration and for conflict resolution.


Suspend Judgment


As a starter do not fire yourself up with why you are right, and why the other party is wrong. Instead, de-escalate yourself and suspend judgment. Do not take it personally. Even if it feels or is personal, do not take it personally. This is hard. However, you must decide whether you are going to become angry or not.

Focus on the problem and on remaining calm. Slow down.

Be aware of your emotional triggers and do not let them kick in. Do not pass judgment. Give yourself positive self-talk. You can make it through this. Coach yourself to keep an open mind. Work with the other party to say “yes.” Remain courteous. All these elements will help you remain, calm, focused, and suspend judgment.




By comparison to paraphrasing, summarizing makes sure that you have captured the key points the other person was trying to make. It is often helpful to take notes when the other party is speaking so that you can capture all the points being offered by the other party. In that way you can ensure that when you summarize what you heard, you indeed have captured key points and possibly minor points from the other party. 

Try to summarize even better than what you heard from the other party.

This can be helpful for uncovering how strongly interests are associated with different points What you deem to be key points may not be exactly what the other party intended. By capturing all the points, you can clarify intentions of each of the points. Sometimes by summarizing in this way the other party may uncover other thoughts not initially identified or may clarify various points to help in the process.




Empathy involves more than sharing the pain of the other person.

Empathizing involves taking actions that demonstrate your understanding.

This involves sensing the emotion of the other party and offering appropriate comments, body language and tone consistent with the message being sent by the other party. This has to do with your ability to identify and understand the other party’s emotions. By empathizing with the other party, it may be possible to demonstrate that you really feel what the other party is feeling. When you bond in this manner there can be a real connection that may go a long way towards sharing not only emotions, but intentions, and resolution with mutual understanding.


Do not offer advice


This one too is really hard. You see something. You want to say something. Everything in your body says I need to offer advice.

Pause. Reflect. Focus. Do I have to offer that advice?

If you really think you should, ask the other person this question, “Would you like some advice?” Then comes another hard part. When the answer is “No,” you must accept that and listen. Yes, this is extremely hard, but if you want to listen actively this is what you need to do. As a parent of adult children, I can tell you this hard. However, listening to “No” has worked very effectively to build a good working relationship with them. I also found asking the question “Would you like some advice?” in a business or volunteer situation is often greeted with yes, but be careful? Maybe before you ask that question what you want to do first is ask further clarifying questions before even asking the question and then potentially offering advice.




There you have it. You have PASSED the test to listen actively. Use this acronym (PASSED) to remember


Ask open ended questions

Suspend judgment



Do not offer advise

When you make the conscious effort to actively listen and carry out these elements you will gain insight, connect better with others, and develop relationships that will allow you to be better at whatever you do. Whether you are out to improve collaboration with others or need to address conflict resolution, by applying these six techniques you will be a better listener, more productive, more profitable, and have more pleasure.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]