How to Engage in Active-Constructive Responding

Whether it is in the workplace, your community organization, your school club, or within your friend group, active-constructive responding is a skill that will lead to greater understanding and positive results.


What is ‘active-constructive responding’? 

Simply put, it is responding actively and addressing what was said to you, but also responding in a constructive way by being supportive and asking questions. In our current society, we’re programmed to listen to respond instead of listening to listen and it’s a habit we need to get out of.

Imagine this:

You’re in a large group and you’re instructed to go around and introduce yourselves. Name, major/area of study, and a fun fact. One person is instructed to start and you are sitting farther down the line. What are you doing as this person is introducing themselves? There’s a large chance that, like many others, you would be rehearsing your own introduction in your head instead of listening to the people being introduced.

This is just one of many examples of where we ‘tune out’ of what we are supposed to be listening to and getting lost in our own thoughts as we prepare our own responses. We are so concerned with what others think of us that we want to perfect what comes out of our mouths. Or in discussion spaces, we may be uncomfortable with silence and want to have something ready to say instead of having an awkward silence in the air.

Practicing Active-Constructive Responding

To practice and test your active-constructive responding, try out this exercise. This is an activity I like doing with students and it will require a partner.

Set a timer to one minute. Each partner will take turns speaking for one minute. During the one minute, while partner A is speaking, partner B who is not speaking will simply listen. It’s that simple! It does not have to be a formal activity but you can practice this when you are speaking to your friends as well. Try to listen to them talk until they are done talking, without interjecting. During your practice, pay attention to the following items below:

1. What occupies your mind while you are listening?

While listening to your partner speak, does your mind wander? Do you find other things coming into your mind as your partner speaks? Are you subconsciously creating a response as you listen?

Although it’s alright to be creating a response and taking notes of things you’d like to bring up to your partner, be mindful of how much of your mind this is taking up. Are you focusing 90% on creating a response and 10% on listening and processing what the speaker is saying? There may also be a chance that you are not focused on creating a response but just focused on other things. Perhaps you’re thinking about what to make for dinner or what your plans are this weekend. Our minds wander all the time and it takes extra effort to really focus on the things in front of us.

2. How is your posture and body language?

Are you leaning forward? Are you leaning backward? Are you making eye contact with the speaker or are you looking away? Do you find yourself getting distracted and looking at everything but the speaker? If this is the case, you may be feeling bored and your attention may be elsewhere.

3. Do you feel yourself getting restless and antsy?

While listening, you may find yourself shaking your leg or twiddling your thumbs. You may feel antsy and jittery as the minute goes on. When did a minute become so long? This may be a sign that you are not used to listening to others and that you are in the habit of responding. Your body is ready to respond and wants to say something and do something.

Communication is the key to success! It is easy to improve on our communication styles by being more attentive and aware of our own actions and it not only improves our relationships with each other, but also our understanding of ourselves.

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