Difference Between Active Listening and Passive Listening

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: June 03, 2023


Difference Between Active Listening and Passive Listening

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A crucial part of any communication is listening. You probably won't fully understand what you're being told if you don't listen attentively. We listen to others in two different ways: actively and passively. The listener must focus, comprehend, reply, and then recall what was said to practice active listening. On the other hand, when engaging in passive listening, the listener must take a seat quietly and take everything in. So here, we will discuss the differences between active listening and passive listening.

Active listening vs Passive listening

When one listens actively, they focus, comprehend, reply, and then recall what was heard. While passively listening, nevertheless, the listener's thoughts could drift to unrelated subjects. The listener may often zone out from the important discussion going on. This is not the case in active listening, as the listener is very attentive to what the speaker is conveying and in what manner. Natural nonverbal indications like nodding and eye contact are used during active listening but may not be used during passive listening. Many times the listener may not show any expression at all. The speaker did not get any interruptions or distractions while he is delivering his content or the message. This was the case of passive listening, but in the case of active listening the speaker is interrupted at every step, and doubt is asked on the spot. The speaker can get easily distracted in the case of active listening. This much attention can make a person anxious and nervous. In a job interview, for instance, the interviewer may interrupt the applicant if they are paying attention to what they are saying to explain something or to ask follow-up questions. As a result, the candidate may feel stressed and tense, lose their focus, and possibly perform poorly.

An employee could miss crucial details or get the wrong impression of what is expected if they are passively taking notes during a meeting at work. Active listening, on the other hand, entails making sure that the employee fully understands their job and responsibilities by clarifying information and asking questions, which promotes a more effective and efficient work environment.

Difference between active listening and passive listening in tabular form

Parameters of comparisonActive listeningPassive listening
MeaningActive listening is a type of listening in which an individual pays full attention to the speaker.Passive listening is the listening type in which the listener does not get properly involved in the listening activity.
AttentionThe listener pays undivided attention to what the speaker has to say.There is no such attention in passive listening. The person merely listens tentatively.
CuriosityThere is always a high level of curiosity among the speaker and listener.The level of curiosity is much lower in passive listening. Curiosity cannot be witnessed during the conversation.
CommunicationThe communication is quite interactive as people always keep on indulging in asking relatable questions.Communication is one-way communication. The interaction is only from one side of the party.
ExpressionThe expressions include eye movements and gestures. The expressions and gestures are positive.The expressions in the case of passive listening are not positive. These usually include frowning, yawning, etc.

What is Active listening?

As the name implies, active listening is the process through which the listener carefully listens to what the speaker says, processes the message, and then replies to the message to advance the discussion. To have a good conversation, active listening entails paying close attention to the speaker, expressing interest in what he or she is saying through facial expressions and body language, and asking questions at appropriate times.

Engaging the speaker fully, seeking clarification, and offering comments to guarantee mutual understanding are all components of active listening. Active listening is a talent that can help people communicate better and build closer relationships with others.

While speaking about active listening we often use the word “active listener” for describing the other person.

The term "active listener" refers to those who actively participate in communication, not merely by listening intently to what is being said, but also by paying close attention to how it is being said. In other words, active listeners pay attention to the message and the way it was presented, including the articulation, pitch, facial expressions, body language, etc. of the speaker.

You can also take notes while you're listening if the speaker provides consent. A summary of the primary information communicated and a reflection on them are both crucial components of active listening. The audience will understand more clearly as a result. Empathy, effort, concentration, and a lot of practice are necessary for active listening, which is a deliberate process.

Features of active communication

Now, we will discuss some features or characteristics of active listening which will be as follows:

  • Active listeners pay full attention to every detail and their concentration is very strong.
  • If there are any doubts or misunderstandings then they can be resolved on the spot.
  • Everyone concerned may proceed confidently and clearly by resolving them right away. It is crucial to promote open dialogue and an atmosphere where individuals feel at ease asking questions and seeking clarification because of this.
  • Feelings can be conveyed more effectively which is a very important aspect when comes to communication. This can lead to a friendly working environment where everyone will feel valued.
  • The conversation seems interesting and the listener gets fully carried out with the flow he may ask several interesting questions to maintain the flow of the conversation.

Barriers to active listening

Further, we will discuss some barriers that can arise in the way of active listening which is as follows:

Poor language and speaking skills

To comprehend the speaker clearly, active listening calls for a strong command of the language. Poor language skills will prevent listeners from actively participating in dialogue, even if they make an effort. The inadequacy of the language will operate as a barrier in this scenario, for instance, if the teacher delivers a lecture in English but the student does not speak it well.

Pre-assumption or judgment

Based on the speaker's appearance, clothes, accent, status, and mannerisms a listener may occasionally prejudge the speaker or make an opinion about him or her. Nevertheless, each person has a unique set of prejudices.

Lack of patience

Some listeners lack tolerance, which may be a result of being too eager or impatient. And for this reason, the listener believes that the speaker is speaking slowly. As a result, the listener asks questions and cuts the speaker off while he or she is still speaking, preventing the speaker from finishing. As a result, the listener rarely engages in active listening because they often assume everything.

Solid convictions

Due to their preconceived notions, biases, and preconceptions, some people are narrow-minded. Due to how deeply ingrained these beliefs are, they act as a barrier to fresh perspectives. Instead of accepting someone's point of view, they tend to shun or condemn them simply because they are not welcoming to the new changes.

What is Passive listening?

Passive listening is taking in information without giving it any further thought. The individual will sit silently and not respond or react when something is said are passively listening.

 Similar to proactive listening, passive listening involves an extended period of complete silence. In these circumstances, a person can determine if someone is actively listening by the subtle signals that person gives out, which will amply demonstrate the listener's actual nature. As an illustration, consider viewing the news, listening to music, or attending a lecture. Although you may think you are listening to something when you are not understanding what is being said because of the tendency of our minds to wander occasionally when we are passively listening. Passive listening is one-way communication, thus. This indicates that although the listener is physically present, it may not be necessary that they are paying attention to what the speaker is saying. As a result, the message is not retained by the listeners, and they may not be able to recollect it later.

Just like the active listeners we have a similar term coined called “passive listeners”.

The people who are passive listeners only pay limited attention to the message. Additionally, there is a lack of awareness of the subtleties, underlying meanings, and nonverbal cues that are part of communication. A passive listener essentially allows the other person to speak without interjecting or asking for clarification. As a result, speaking to someone who is only listening passively is ineffective and incomplete.

Reasons behind passive listening

Further, we will discuss the reasons behind passive listening which will be as follows:

  • The listener might be involved in performing more than one task which caused a diversion of attention. Thus, multitasking may be the reason behind poor listening.
  • Lack of interpersonal skills may be another reason that a person may not be able to actively listen to whatever he is being asked to pay attention to.
  • The lecture or the message may be too long to listen for a longer duration. Human minds automatically stop paying attention to whatever involves too much period.
  • The message or lecture may lack the hook points that can keep the listener engaged or to even paying attention.
  • One of the key reasons that can contribute to passive listening is a lack of interest in the subject being discussed. As an illustration, if someone is speaking to someone about sci-fi movies and the listener has no interest in sci-fi at all, there is a probability that the speaker won't get the listener's full attention.

Differences between Active listening and Passive listening in points

  •  In active listening, the flow of conversation depends upon the listener like how much interest he is showing in the topic by asking related questions. While in passive listening listener is not interested in knowing where the topic is headed.
  • The listener or receiver of passive listening does not give the speaker any feedback, making it a one-way communication. Active listening, on the other hand, is a two-way conversation that involves appropriate responses, demonstrating that the listener is understanding whatever the person speaking is saying in addition to hearing what they are saying.
  • The willpower of the passive listener is quite low or totally zero in comparison with the active listening where the listener is filled up with full zeal and enthusiasm.
  • When a person is listening actively, they pay attention, comprehend what is being said, give a response, and retain the information. As opposed to active listening, listening passively involves the listener merely pretending to be attentive to the speaker while, in reality, the listener is usually preoccupied with his or her ideas.
  • As it shows a desire to learn and connect with others, active listening can also aid in the development of trust and empathy between people. It can also result in more efficient problem-solving since engaged listeners are better able to comprehend the situation at hand and collaborate to find a solution. A lack of engagement and a sense of separation, on the other hand, can result from passive listening, which can ultimately hurt relationships and obstruct progress.


In light of everything that has been discussed so far, we can conclude that listening is always a good thing. It may be different for different people depending on their situations. Communication can take many different forms, including active and passive listening. Both of these involve the speaker, the listener, and the passive listener. However, there are several differences when comparing passive and active listening. Particularly in the manner the listener interacts with the other person. The major distinction between active and passive hearing is that during active listening, the listener pays close attention to the speaker and actively participates in their speech, whereas, during passive listening, the listener pays no attention to the speaker and only listens impassively. Even though it may not come naturally to many of us, active listening is an essential communication ability that helps to create good relationships. It will require commitment and practice, but it will be worth it in both your career and personal life to develop your listening skills.


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"Difference Between Active Listening and Passive Listening." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sat. 30 Sep. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-active-listening-and-passive-listening>.

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