Active listening exercises are a great opportunity to both break the ice and have some fun, whilst learning vital skills to develop effective listening. After all, human beings are social animals and communication is the very basis of human socialisation.
Communication involves understanding and empathising with the speaker with the goal being brevity and crystal clear points of view and direction. This is why active listening gains a great importance in the process of communication.
In this article, we have identified 10 active listening exercises which you can play with your teams, to help naturally improve effective listening.
For a deeper understanding in active listening, check out our guides on how to be a great active listener, and also the one golden rule of active listening.
Active Listening Exercises to Develop Active Listening Skills in Your Team
Here are a few activities that you can take up within your team to cultivate the practice of active listening and improve communication effectiveness.
Mime it Out
This is the first of the 10 active listening exercises. It’s played as an individual activity. Each person in the group is given a topic and 5 minutes to brainstorm on their own. They must come up with the emotions and expressions that they feel are appropriate to describe the topic.
At the end of the 5 minutes, each person takes the stage and acts out the given topic as a mime. The others have to understand the expression and tell that person what topic is being described.
- This helps the participant develop an understanding of non-verbal cues from the speaker;
- This also helps the participants to express themselves using expressions and body language;
- It creates awareness about possible areas of misunderstanding while reading non-verbal cues.
Omit the Obvious
In this activity, give a set of words to your group of participants. These words should be closely related to a certain topic. Purposefully repeat a few of the words multiple times, while omitting a certain obvious word in the group.
For instance, under the topic of Space, you can give the following set of words: Sun, comets, asteroids, dark matter, planets and black hole. Out of these, you can repeat the words planets and comets 2-3 times. You might notice that we have left out the obvious word – Stars.
Once you are done reciting the words, take a gap of 5 minutes to discuss some unrelated topic. Then, ask the participants to indicate which word was on the list and which was not, as you read out that list of words.
You will notice that many would invariably mark “Stars” to be on the list. Also, the majority of the people are expected to remember the words that were repeated.
- This activity displays the importance of attentive listening for retaining information;
- It also shows how repetition helps to reinforce the memory.
Listen, Listen, Listen
The third of the active listening exercise, and for this activity, divide the team into groups of two.
Each person in their respective group must talk about something that is important to them, for a period of 3-4 minutes.
The other person cannot speak during this time. They have to listen quietly.
At the end of the speaking time, the listener has to paraphrase what the speaker said, in their own words.
The speaker then clarifies, corrects or confirms what the listener paraphrased.
- This activity helps to build patience. It reinforces the skill of not interrupting while someone is speaking;
- This also helps to boost reflective capabilities. It trains the participants to stop thinking about what they would say next and instead focus on what the speaker is saying.
The Absent Minded Listener
This is also a two person activity, where one person speaks about something they are passionate about. The speaker should use plenty of non verbal cues – expressions, hand gestures etc.
The other person, unbeknownst to the speaker, should be instructed to feign disinterest and be fidgety. They should repeatedly look at their watch, look around the room, give bored expressions and a laid back posture.
The change in the speaker’s body language and eagerness is to be noticed. While starting off with a high energy, the expressions and hand gestures would soon come down, seeing the lack of interest of the listener.
- This activity shows the importance of a positive body language from the listener in order to elicit an eager and earnest conversation from the speaker;
- Point to be driven home is that if the listener is in the shoes of the speaker, the same would happen to him or her.
This activity should then be repeated, but this time with active participation from the listener in terms of maintaining eye contact, questions, clarifications, paraphrasing and an overall positive body language.
The marked difference in the quality of communication can be easily observed.
Sandwiches and Hamburgers
This is a group activity involving all the members of the team. Make everyone stand in a circle with you at the centre. Give them two verbal cues – Sandwiches and Hamburgers.
Also give them two corresponding actions. This can be raising the right hand for sandwiches and the left hand for hamburgers.
Now, say the verbal cue out aloud, accompanied by the corresponding action. Ask everyone to follow your words.
For the first few rounds, do it correctly. Raise the right hand for sandwiches and the left hand for hamburgers. Then, start mixing them up.
This game can be a lot of fun, with people misjudging the verbal cues and the actions, leading to some good hearted laugh.
- To teach the participants to listen carefully. Even though your actions contradict your verbal cues, they were expressly instructed to follow your words…and not your actions;
- To act as a good ice breaker at the beginning of a long session or in between two intensive sessions.
A Drawing Task
This again, is a two person activity.
Divide the team into groups of two. Make the two members of each group sit back to back. Give a sheet containing a simple drawing, such as a mix of various shapes, to one person, without showing it to the other.
The person without the sheets gets a blank paper and a pencil to draw. They then have to ask questions and draw what they believe they are hearing, based on the answers from their partner.
Finally, both the sheets are compared to see how accurately the drawing has been replicated.
- To teach the importance of seeking clarifications to improve one’s understanding of the subject;
- To show the importance of framing and asking the right questions to gain the necessary information.
This can be taken up as a group activity, but it essentially involves two people. They should ideally have opposing points of view on a given subject.
The Objective is for each person to listen to the other’s views with patience and respect. They should also try to gain insights into and genuinely understand the reasons behind the opposing point-of-view and how they came to settle upon it.
The entire activity should be in the form of a friendly conversation without any argument or confrontation.
- To create a habit of patient and unbiased listening, even when the speaker holds markedly different views from those of the listener;
- To strengthen the skill of gaining deeper understanding of a certain subject by asking relevant questions;
- To improve the capability of having fruitful conversations with people of contrasting views.
Respecting Pluralism (Alternative Method)
This is an active listening exercise that is subtly different from exercise 7. In case sufficient alternative viewpoints are not available in the original game above, you can take up a modified version of this activity:
For each group, Provide a topic to start the conversation. One person expresses their views on the topic, while the other person tries to glean more information about why they hold those views.
This is to be done by asking a WHY question after every response. Repeat this 3 times.
The questions should be soft and meant to bring out more information, rather than to badger the opposite party into changing his views.
For instance, the topic can be “Do you think the present Government is doing a good job of managing the economy?”
Relive your emotions
This a self development activity, meant to be practiced in a calm and composed state of mind.
Find a quiet place for this activity. Reflect upon some important conversation that you have had in the last few days. Try to identify situations that triggered a certain emotional reaction from your side.
Now try to think of ways in which you could have handled the situation better, without giving in to the emotional outburst.
For instance, consider this scenario
Incident: Your subordinate misses a deadline.
Emotion triggered: Anger. You may have berated the employee and made them feel ashamed.
Possible alternative response: You could have reiterated the urgency of meeting the deadline and asked them what the reason for delay was. If possible, give another few hours to complete the work and submit it by the end of the day, opting to identify how things could be done better next time.
- To create a sense of empathy, which is a necessary skill for active listening;
- Develop emotional intelligence by learning to control your emotions and learn from previous mistakes.
Train of Thoughts
The last of our active listening exercises, and this one involves multi-member groups.
Give the first person a certain topic on which they have to speak. The first person speaks for 1-2 minutes. After this, the second person summarises what was said before them and adds their own thoughts regarding the topic of discussion.
This chain continues in the group, where each person has to first summarize what has been told before them, and then add their thoughts.
- To develop the skill of attentive listening and linking one’s own thoughts to the flow of ideas;
- To develop the skill of summarising effectively
Although there are many more activities that you can practice, both as an individual or as a group to improve your skills of active listening, we found that these were among the most effective ones.
We curated this list so that you can jump right into it and begin the journey of mastering the art of active listening.
These active listening exercises are meant to be a light hearted way of bringing your team together for 15 minutes or so, focusing on building team spirit, whilst learning some important active listening skills.
To be effective, ensure you run through these games over a number of sessions, so the team can naturally develop their skills and thinking.
Explain the objectives and outcomes to each game, so the team can link why they are doing it, but also express that it’s just a bit of fun too!