Active Listening in Nursing

Nursing Knowledge

Active Listening in Nursing

Active listening is a cornerstone of effective and therapeutic communication. This skill requires consciously absorbing, comprehending, responding to, and remembering what someone says. It goes beyond processing words and involves interpreting emotional undertones and non-verbal cues, signaling a holistic understanding and empathy. In clinical nursing practice, active listening is essential for accurate assessment, fostering trust, and patient satisfaction.
Last updated: December 4, 2023


Remember the universal patient rights and the ethical principles that should guide every nurse's practice with this handy cheat sheet.

Table of contents

What is active listening? 

Active listening is a communication technique used in various settings, including counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It means the listener fully concentrates, understands, actively responds/engages, and then remembers what is being said. 

This is opposed to passive listening, which is a one-way communication of listening without reacting and possibly not understanding.

Active listening fosters a clear understanding between communicators and forms a connection that makes the speaker feel heard and understood. It can de-escalate conflict, encourage the sharing of ideas, and form a pathway for mutual problem-solving. It’s a skill that requires patience, practice, and a genuine desire to understand others.

What active listening is NOT 

  • Hijacking the conversation and speaking about yourself – it is about listening even if you actively participate in the conversation
  • Not reacting at all 
  • Leading the focus away from the point the speaker was trying to address
  • Interrupting

What are examples of active listening in nursing? 

Here are a few examples of situations when it can be helpful to apply the active listening technique: 

  • Taking a medical history (to not miss any subtle details) 
  • Providing emotional support to patients
  • Patient education (e.g., when patients respond and ask questions or share concerns) 
  • Handling patient complaints

Techniques of active listening 

As defined above, active listening involves engaging with what the speaker in the communication situation is saying; showing reactions and signaling one’s attention and comprehension. There are different ways of how you can engage: 

Verbal engagement

Ways to verbally engage and show that you are actively listening include: 

  • Giving vocal signals of understanding like “Oh, hmm” “ok.” (use sparingly)
  • Repeating/summarizing what the speaker said 

Nonverbal engagement

Ways of nonverbal engagement with the speaker include: 

  • Avoid anything that takes your attention away from the speaker (phone, fidgeting, etc) 
  • Lean in slightly with open body language 
  • Eye contact, if appropriate
  • Engage in facial expression 

Surroundings and context awareness

  • Make sure your environment is free of distractions, calm, and private
  • Avoid interruptions or time pressure
  • Stay aware of when more distance or silence is needed, or the client is not ready to talk, to avoid pressuring more conversation

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Nursing Cheat Sheet

Remember the universal patient rights and the ethical principles that should guide every nurse’s practice with this handy cheat sheet.

Master the topic with a unique study combination of a concise summary paired with video lectures. 

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