Session 3
Active listening

Welcome back!

How are YOU? How is your LIFE? 

You are just about to start a second journey, a journey that has the potential to be different and equally meaningful. This part is about action, about your next level and – as always – about:

Who YOU dare to be and which IMPACT you wanna stand for? 

Questions? Just contact us here.

Active Listening  | Homework

How to listen – like… really

How we do active listening at The Arc – we make it simple

You know this: You are sitting with a friend. Your tell a story. Your friend reacts “ah… the same thing happened to me, here’s what happened…” and then your friend goes on telling her/his story.

We wouldn’t call this listening. We’d call this: Compiling stories.

So here’s how we listen in counselling at The Arc (btw… you do not always have to listen like that ;))


Why does active listening matter?

Listening is the core of a counselling session and any nurturing relationship.

Active listening is one of the central concepts of communication. The self-clarification process of the client is enormously strengthened. It promotes self-awareness, increases the self-responsibility of the client and leads back to the self-control ability.


What is active listening?

Active listening was first described by Carl R. Rogers. The term active listening is used to describe an appreciative attitude and the accompanying conversation technique that invites all senses in communication.

  • The counsellor refrains from commenting and dispenses with interpretations.
  • She/he tries to understand the client rationally and emotionally and to show this through verbal summaries and encouragement (e.g. “yes, I understand.”) and non-verbal gestures (e.g. smiles and nodding).
  • It is important to hold back with own experiences and solution impulses.
  • The counsellor signals sympathy and benevolent, appreciative interest and helps the counsellee get into conversation through supportive questions.


Listening is about full presence.

Listening is about creating a safe space for the other person.

Listening is about patience and deceleration and trust.


Listening is about full presence.

Before the session starts the counsellor may take a moment and make sure to be really present for the counsellee, e.g. shuts down electronic devices, takes a deep breath, feels feet and grounds in the moment – if necessary writes down any thoughts in order to not forget about them and get back to them later after the listening session.


Listening is about creating a safe space for the other person.

Prerequisite for this conversation technique is initially the benevolent and fearless, trusting space that the counsellor creates for the counsellee, e.g. tea, candles, closed door, good room temperature to create a comfortable and inviting environment. Also, the counsellor makes sure the counsellee knows about the principle of secrecy.


Listening is about patience (not knowing the answer), deceleration (really getting to know the situation) and trust (the counselees will find the fitting solution)

Listening helps the counsellee to find his or her own solutions and to talk a topic through thoroughly. We almost never get the chance to just speak uninterruptedly or without suggestions or interpretations of the listener. Most of us never get to the deeper part of our story because other people are hijacking the conversation and trying to fix everything or shut down the flow due to their own topics or uncomfortable feelings with the topic. As a counsellor, I invite you to become comfortable with not finding a solution for the other person nor trying to fix anything and just accept the counsellees current situation and welcome the struggle. If we are really allowed to talk things out, we often talk ourselves right into our own solutions and the struggle vanishes by itself.

Appreciative listening: listen compassionately without interruption. Let the person talk his or her way through the issue without turning it into a conversation about what you would have done or have thought of doing (don’t take anything personally – this step is not about you!)

You may make supportive sounds or phrases like, “yeah”, “mmhhhm”, “tell me more”, “what happened next?”, “I would like to know more about…”, “How come?”

You don’t impede the flow of words, but neither do you sit there like a rock.

Instead: Observe! Take in for example

  • the councellee’s lingo (What words are used? What associations come up with such words? Does your councellee What emotions are being mentioned?)
  • the councellee`s tone of voice (Timid? Self-confident? Overcompensating? Relaxed? Angry?)
  • the councellee’s body language (High/low power pose? Change of posture when she/he starts talking about a certain aspect?)
  • the councellee’s breathing (Flat or deep? Hectic or calm?) – Can you sense how fast your councellee’s heart is pounding?
  • the councellee’s mindset with which she/he approaches the story being told (Growth mindset or fixed mindset? Check out an explanatory video here)
The counsellor tries to pin down the core message of the counsellee and summarizes in his own words the most important contents. If the counsellee answers with the tenor: “Yes, exactly …” the counsellor is on the right track, if not then just ask a question to understand it better and let the counsellee explain it again.

Paraphrase (i.e. repeat in your own words)

“Correct me if I am wrong, but I heard that … .”

“Ok, let me check if I got this. I understood that … . What I haven’t understood yet is… . Can you elaborate on this?”

“If I got you right then … ?”

“If I was to summarize this, I’d say … ?”


Rather than saying “So, you were saying x?” use “I”-messages such as “I heard that …” or “I understood that …”.

Check out the difference:

Councellee: “I missed the bus today and I was so angry that I spilled my coffee over my pants at the bus stop:”

OPTION A – Councellor A: “So you are saying your life sucks?”
OPTION B – Councellor B: “When I hear this, I am getting the idea that your life sucks. Does it?”

Intuitively, under option B it is very clear that the councellor is just projecting. And the councellee has an easy opportunity to answer either “Well, it might seem like that, but after all it’s not that bad” or “Yes, it does suck!” without having to be impolite to the councellor.

Option A is almost an invitation to confirm the councellor’s view. If the answer is “Yes, my life does suck!”, that’s no problem. But if the answer is more complex or if the councellor’s view is simply wrong, the councellee has to contradict the councellor: “No, that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is that it might seem like that, but after all it’s not that bad”. If this happens several times in a row, any councellee will easily feel in defence mode, as if one had to fight to be understood. #notcool

Now is your time.

Having observed like a rockstar in step 1 and (hopefully at least mildly) corrected your projections in step 2, you may now share everything you saw in step 3

Emotional understanding or talk out of the heart of the other person

The counsellor puts himself in the situation of the counselee and tries to bring the counselees emotional situation to the point. Here, empathy is needed. (Careful to not project your own emotions into the other person)

Helpful is to name the feelings that you believe the counsellee has already addressed. Another possibility is to share your perceptions about the tone of voice or the body language. It takes courage to address perceived emotions and possibly be wrong. Protect the other person’s dignity and frame it as a question and ask in order to make the counsellee the expert of his emotional state: 

You can do it the obvious way:

“I’m picking up this emotion … . You tell me if it’s true or not.”

“While you were speaking, I observed a couple of things. Would you like me to share?” (kind of leading question as it will be hard to say no.. but for once we don’t mind 😉

Or you can make it sound like a more normal conversation:

“So when hearing you speak, what resonated with me was … . Would you agree or disagree?”

“I am just wildly guessing but what really struck me was … . What would you say? ”

“You seem so … when you talk about this. Is my impression correct or am I off?”



  • Always leave an exit opportunity for your councellee

It is still important to not force upon your councellee any of your own interpretations. If you share your obversations and add a “Would you agree?” to this, some councellee’s are still easily forced into agreement as disagreement might mean to impolitely contradict the councellor. Hence, it makes sense to always offer the opposite road as well:

“I got the impression that … . Would you agree or disagree?”

That way the councellee can either agree or disagree without having to contradict you.


  • Create an hypothesis

If you are brave and if you do feel that your councellee is clear enough on the matter to be able to contradict*, you may formulate your own hypothesis. Make sure that the hypothesis still comes as a question and NOT as an answer.

“Could it possibly be that … ? Would you agree or disagree?”

“Is the matter possibly that … ? Or am I off here?”

“How right or wrong is it to say that … ?”



* Be careful here. usually we overestimate our councellee’s ability to contradict our views 😉

Some homework

Whohooo! That was fun! Let’s practice!

Contine your ROSA schedule. As mentioned we recommend to meet up once every 10-14 days or more often.

When doing so:

  • For counsellors: Practice to really listen. Ask for feedback: Well understood did you feel as a counsellee? Did you feel comfortable? Were my questions natural or a bit awkward? What about it might have been awkward? (Btw: It WILL probably be awkward in the beginning!) How would a more naturally sounding question have sounded like? Can you give me a tip?
  • As a counsellee: Give content. Do not hide your body language or emotions. Be coachable 😉 Give a chance to your counsellor to feel understood by her/him.
Pair Presence Exercise (3 min)


Start by sitting opposite your partner with your knees touching whether you are in chairs or sitting cross-legged on the floor.

When you are settled in, close your eyes, stop talking and relax.

Breathe deeply.

Slowly start breathing together (2 min).

When you are breathing together, look into each other’s eyes (1 min) and arrive with the other person.


Listening (30 min per person)


  1. Step: The counsellee starts talking for 30 min without being interrupted. The question to answer is: Which were the moments in my life that I felt the most empowered / the most in the flow? The counsellor listens actively to the content and observes which emotions the counsellee shows while speaking.


  1. Step: The counsellee writes down 5 insights gained from speaking about empowering moments. Then the counsellee tries to sharpen them and write 5 words that symbolize the core of the stories. Don’t show them to the counsellor yet.


  1. Step: The counsellor reflects back to the counsellee what he/she believes are the core topics that empowered the counsellee (paraphrase and sharpen what was said) and mirrors back which emotions accompanied the talk.
  2. Step: Counsellor and counsellee compare their reflections.
  3. Step: The counsellee states what he / she will do in the next week to feel empowered.
  4. Step: Give feedback to each other and reflect: how was it to be truly listened to without being interrupted? How was it to listen and observe without needing to ask questions?
  5. Step: Switch roles.


FOR FUN: Painting (30 min)

Draw a picture of what is stopping you right now from being as empowered as you described before. Just let your intuition scribble, draw, paint something that symbolizes the nasty demon that is holding you back.

Feel free to cut, burn, rip the paper apart afterwards =)

Stay tuned, the next session is coming soon!