What are the Four Types of Active Listening?

Updated November 21, 2016

If you are want to improve your listening skills, practice active listening. Active listening requires the listener to hear, evaluate and interpret the content of speech. The four types of active listening are paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, reflecting meaning and summative reflection.


Paraphrasing occurs when the listener repeats the essence of the message spoken by the communicator but in different words. As an active listening strategy, paraphrasing is important because it demonstrates that the listener is concentrating upon the message offered by the speaker. Paraphrasing can be the most challenging active listening type to perfect. Dr. Paul J. Donohue and Dr. Mary Siege explain in their book "Are You Really Listening" that "Paraphrasing requires skill as well as discipline."

Reflecting Feelings

Active listeners reflect the feelings of the communicator in their consideration of the message and their response to the speaker. The communicator will feel validated by the emotional response of the listener and the listener will feel that the message is personal and relevant. At times, reflecting feelings can obfuscate the communication process by interjecting emotion into a rational discussion. However, this active listening type establishes an emotional rapport between the communicator and the listener.

Reflecting Meaning

Like the reflection of emotions, reflecting meaning establishes a rapport between the speaker and the listener. However, reflecting meaning is distinguished from reflecting emotions through its concentration upon the factual message of the speaker. Reflecting meaning allows the listener to confirm understanding with the speaker. You can practice reflecting meaning by using the general phrase "When this occurs, you feel this way and want to do this" and applying this sentence to the specifics defining the communication.

Summative Reflection

Summative reflection involves the confirmation of the message content. It combines the elements of paraphrasing, reflecting meaning and reflecting emotion to illustrate the speaker's considered evaluation of the speaker's message. Unlike paraphrasing, summative reflection requires the listener to incorporate personal views in the description of the speaker's message. Summative reflection can be the most difficult type of active learning to exercise, but accurate summative reflection can promote efficiency in the communication process and strengthen interpersonal ties.

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