Active Listening

2-40 people

This exercise encourages individuals to contemplate a question and devise their own solutions by utilizing basic principles of active listening and peer coaching. It serves as a great introduction to active listening, but can also be applied to groups who are already acquainted with it. Participants collaborate in groups of three, rotating roles as "the subject," the listener, and the observer.

Workshop steps


Introduction Begin with a short introduction to active listening. Highlight that during reflection and discussion, we often concentrate on multiple people and questions simultaneously, causing our attention and focus to shift. Additionally, when we listen to others, we usually do so with a discussion-oriented mindset, thinking about "what will I say next" instead of fully focusing on the other person. To effectively explore a question or problem, it's essential to practice active listening and concentrate on one person at a time. This is the approach we'll take in this exercise. Optionally, collaborate with the group to create a list of "What makes good active listening?" Encourage participants to share their thoughts spontaneously, and note them down on a flipchart.


Select Roles On a flipchart or whiteboard (in-person or digital), present the three roles participants will assume during the activity. The subject: As the subject, explore the question or issue from your personal viewpoint. Remember to focus on yourself and let your thoughts flow naturally, guided by the active listener. The active listener: As the active listener, fully concentrate and be present. Listen with your entire body, be curious, observe, rephrase what you hear, and direct the subject with open-ended questions. Keep in mind: ask open questions to aid the subject's reflection; avoid giving advice; listen with your whole body. The observer: As the observer, silently watch the process. Make observations from an external perspective, noticing things that the listener and subject might miss. Remember to stay quiet throughout the process; observe and take notes on what you see and hear; after the subject is done, share your observations with the group.


Establish the issue or inquiry. Determine the topic that each participant will examine and contemplate. You can either assign a shared question for the entire group (for example, "What are the main obstacles to change in my job, and how can I tackle them?") or allow each individual to select their own issue or inquiry (for instance, "Pick a current workplace challenge you're facing."). Make sure all attendees comprehend what they need to investigate and think about.


Divide into teams of three. You can either form the groups yourself or let the participants create their own teams of three. Ensure that every participant takes on each role for a specific duration. Allocate 1 hour for the entire activity, with 20 minutes dedicated to each role (subject, active listener, observer). Guide team members to manage time and confirm that all three rounds are of equal length.


Wrap-Up After everyone has completed the activity, discuss the experience by asking questions such as: - What did I experience during the activity? - What was it like to be an observer? - What was it like to be the subject? - What was it like to be an active listener? - What did I discover about myself? - How can I use the insights gained from this activity?

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Anna Lundqvist
UX Designer and AI Ethics Strategist guiding innovative product development and educational workshops
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Eddy Salzmann
Design lead and team culture enthusiast driving products and design processes
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Ola Möller
Founder of MethodKit who has a passion for organisations and seeing the big picture
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