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  • Temara Willis

Actively listening in mediation

What does it mean to actively listen in mediation?


Listening to the person you are mediating with to understand their wants and needs is essential for successful mediation. Just because you are sitting in front of the person and hearing them doesn't mean you are actually listening. Think about it, you hear someone, you know they are talking, but you are actually planning your response, thinking about how you want to get out of there or mentally writing your shopping list.

You might be in the midst of an argument or heated discussion standing right in front of someone, and that person states, are you even listening to me. You are thinking what... I am right in front of you, listening to everything you say. But are you? Why does the other person feel this way, and how can you demonstrate that you are listening.

Well, there are four different styles of listening.

  • Passive listening

  • Active listening

  • Empathetic listening

  • Comprehensive listening

Today, I will focus on the difference between active and passive listening and provide some tips to ensure you are actively listening. Ensuring that you actively listen will help you get the most out of your mediation.


So what is passive listening? Well, this is little more than hearing the other person talk. You fail to engage them. A common example of passive listening during mediation is when the other person interrupts you mid-sentence or fails to let you even respond before they speak again. Or they let you respond; however, instead of asking a question to gain clarity or ensure an understanding of what you have said, they just express their opinions or feelings or move on to the next issue. Someone passively listening generally asks few questions and fails to properly comprehend what you are saying.


In contrast, active listening means listening completely. You make a choice to prioritise what is happening in front of you. This means making eye contact, demonstrating responsive body language, asking questions, and committing time and energy to understand the other persons' needs and wants. You concentrate on what is being said rather than passively 'hearing' the message, which requires giving your full attention.


So how can you demonstrate active listing?

  1. Face the person speaking and maintain eye contact.

  2. Keep an open mind, don't assume or predict what you think they are going to say.

  3. Don't interrupt, and impose your resolutions.

  4. Ask follow up questions before responding to ensure your understanding.

  5. Wait, you don't always need to fill in the silence.

  6. Focus. Turn off your phone and pay attention.

Active listening is a choice and takes practice, especially if your relationship dynamics have resulted in a lot of passive listening in the past. Active listening is a skill, and you can plan and practice what you need to do before mediation to ensure that you are demonstrating active listening and are fully engaged. This will help you get the most out of the mediation process.


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