Active vs. Passive Listening: 7 Differences, Tips, Pros & Cons

Passive and active listening are often easy to tell apart by the actions they involve. Effective listeners can sometimes use passive listening, but when understanding, remembering, and being interested are important, they are more likely to use active listening.

In this post, we’ll look at the differences between passive and active listening, as well as the benefits of active listening and how to use it more effectively.

Definition of Active Listening

Active listening means that the listener pays close attention to what the speaker says, thinks about what they say, and then responds to the message to move the conversation forward.

Active listening means giving the speaker your full attention, showing interest in what he or she is saying with facial expressions and body language, and asking questions at the right times.

He or she does his or her best to:

  • Listen carefully to what is being said.
  • Figure out what it says.
  • Join the conversation.
  • Helps the person speaking get their message across.

Active vs. Passive Listening

Active listening requires both verbal and nonverbal cues. Verbal cues include repeating the lines or summarizing what was said, making ideas or disagreeing with the ideas, and asking the right questions. Nonverbal cues include nodding, making eye contact, etc.

For example, you can find active listening in a news conference, a debate, and so on.

Who are Active Listeners?

Active listeners take part in the communication process by not only paying close attention to what is being said but also paying close attention to how it is being said.

Active listeners, on the other hand, pay attention to the tone, pitch, body language, facial expressions, and so on of the person speaking.

Active listeners often ask for clarification, nod their heads at the right times, ask leading questions, and sum up what is said to show that they are paying attention.

Definition of Passive Listening

Passive listening is when you listen to the speaker in a conversation but don’t really pay attention to what they are saying.

He or she just sits there and doesn’t say anything. It means to listen calmly and quietly, without talking or interrupting the conversation.

This means that the listener is there but may not be paying attention to what the speaker is saying. As a result, the message may not be taken in, and the listener may not remember it later.

Here are some reasons why people don’t listen actively:

  • Tiredness
  • Multitasking
  • Disinterest
  • Ill health

Passive hearing is listening to words but not understanding what they mean.This often leads to a misunderstanding between the speaker and the listener, since the speaker thinks the listener got the message right.

For example, pupils who go to a seminar can see passive listening in action.

Who are Passive Listeners?

People who listen passively only hear half of what is being said. Also, people don’t pay attention to the subtleties, hidden meanings, and nonverbal cues that are part of communication.

A passive listener just lets the other person talk without stopping or asking for more information. So, it’s hard and inefficient to talk to someone who doesn’t pay attention.

Key Differences between Active Listening and Passive Listening

ComponentsActive ListeningPassive Listening
DefinitionActive listening is a process in which the speaker describes his thoughts, and the listener also has full involvement.Passive listening is a process of just listening to the message without the speaker’s involvement.
ListenerConcentrates and understands the response to the speaker.Thinks about something else while listening to the listener
Self-ResponsibilityTake responsibility for learning and growth.Avoids the responsibility for problem-solving and learning
Mental ApproachA person in active listening is sharp-minded and reflects on the information.In passive listening, people just accept and retain the information without any intention of the question.
Motivational levelStrongWeek
Will PowerThe active listener is always interested in new ideas and has a strong will.A passive listener is narrow-minded and has zero willpower
Non-Verbal CluesActive listening has non-verbal clues like a change in facial expression, smiling, or rolling eyes.In passive listening, the listener yawns, looks here and there, or is silent to show boredom.

Active vs. Passive Listening Similarities

Both active and passive listening require the listener to sit still and pay attention.
In both types of communication, the message or information gets to the listener.

Active Listening vs. Passive Listening Pros and Cons

Active Listening Pros and Cons

Pros of Active listening

  • Active listening makes it easier to understand what’s being said and helps a person focus.
  • Active listening gives the listener more confidence and draws him into the conversation.

Cons of Active Listening

  • To listen actively, you need time, energy, and sometimes a lot of time.
  • Someone might use the person who is actively listening as a “listening post.”

Passive Listening Pros and Cons

Pros of Passive Listening

  • When someone listens passively, they don’t have to answer back.
  • Passive listening can be relaxing because the listener doesn’t have to pay attention to what is being said.

Cons of Passive Listening

  • Passively listening to someone can be bad for them.
  • If a person listens without paying attention, he or she might miss out on important information.

When to use passive listening

Listeners should use passive listening when they don’t need to pay full attention to what the speaker is saying or change their behaviour to show that they are listening. The following situations are good for passive listening:

Unrelated information

If someone is talking about something that doesn’t directly affect you or isn’t directed at you, it’s okay to just listen to what they’re saying.

For instance, if someone is talking to a group of people but only talking to one person, the other people in the group can practice passive listening.

Casual conversations

There might be a lot of information in casual conversations that you don’t need to pay attention to.

For example, if you’re having a casual conversation with a close friend, you might not need to pay attention to every word or show the other person that you’re really interested, since the things you’re talking about might not be that important.

When to use active listening

In many situations, active listening is better than passive listening because people see active listening as more respectful and involved. Active listening is often done by people in the following situations:

One-on-one conversations

When two people are talking, it’s normal for both of them to listen carefully. Making eye contact and nodding show that you’re paying attention to what’s being said.

During a one-on-one conversation, you could also show that you are listening by saying a few short, positive sentences.

Job interviews

Job interviews test a person’s ability to talk about their skills, abilities, and experience in a way that shows what makes them unique.

Active vs. Passive Listening

Interviewers often look for candidates who pay attention when they talk about the job description, the company, and other things that are important to the position.

Active listening can help interviewees understand some of the more subtle parts of the job and show the person they are talking to that they are really interested in what they are saying.


In a debate, people share well-thought-out ideas and try to come up with the most logical arguments. Debating means listening to your opponent’s points of view and responding to them.

By paying close attention to opposing arguments, people can better prepare their own comments by responding based on information from earlier statements.

Other important conversations

During any important conversation, people should listen actively. This shows respect for the person they are talking to and gives the expert time to think about important information. Here are a few more important conversations where you may need to listen actively:

  • Fundraising meetings

  • Project management meetings

  • Training courses

Benefits of active listening

There are many benefits to active listening. Some of the most common are:

Gathering information: People may find it easier to gather information if they pay attention to what is being said in conversations. Active listeners often ask questions to make sure they understand what is being said.

Information recall: People who pay attention to conversations are more likely to remember specific pieces of information that were said by the speaker.

Engagement: People are more likely to think that people who listen actively are really interested in what they say. This interaction has the benefit of making the person talking feel like you are listening and taking in what they are saying. Many people are more likely to like someone who seems really interested in what they have to say.

Tips for being an active listener

Taking the following steps can help people improve their active listening skills:

Use active body language: Listeners can show how interested they are by how they move their bodies. Active listening is easier when you do things like make eye contact with the person who is talking.

Ask yourself the following: By asking questions, interested listeners can show that they are interested in what the speaker is saying and learn more. For example, if someone says, “Our sales were up 15%,” a good listener might ask, “Which quarter?” to get more information and show that they are paying attention.

Maintain eye contact: Keeping eye contact shows the other person that you are paying attention to what they are saying, and it can also help you understand what they are saying. You don’t have to keep your eyes on the person you’re talking to the whole time, but doing so will help you listen better.

Active vs. Passive Listening

Focus: People will find it much easier to listen actively if they limit outside distractions. Limiting outside noises and other conversations can also help people stay interested in what’s being said.


There are two ways to listen to what other people say: actively and passively. The main difference between active hearing and passive hearing is that active hearing involves both hearing and responding, while passive hearing only involves hearing.

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