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Trainers’ Tips: active listening exercises


There have been lots of requests for active listening exercises, so we trawled the TZ archives. Here is what the community said...

Telephone exercise

Clair says: "Have your delegates in a line and whisper two different messages one starting at one end of the line and one starting at the other. Play music, encourage giggling etc. When the messages have been passed to the final person ask the original recipients if they can first of all remember the message and then the final recipients what message they received. This enables you to draw out all of the areas that stop you from actively listening and then what you can do to ensure you are actively listening."

Stop listening exercise

Derek recommends: "One that works well for me is to take half the group outside the room and ask those in the room to think of a topic they are really passionate about/interested in - eg family, films, football team etc. Those outside room come back inside and pair-up to listen actively to the story. However you have pre-warned them to stop listening (demonstrate this) after about 30 seconds and see what happens. Usually the speakers get really frustrated and annoyed leading to useful debrief discussion on the impact of listening/how to listen etc."

Listener and talker

Graham says: "The types of exercises suggested may be valuable as warm up activities, or to reinforce that listening isn’t easy, but to get changed behaviour requires a different approach. I suspect that what they need is skills training so they know how to listen effectively. Assuming that you will cover the relevant skills so they know what to practice, I’d suggest an exercise that combines content and process. For example, in pairs: Listener and talker.

Talker has to describe what they want from a holiday but without mentioning a destination. Listener has to practice active listening skills – listening attentively to what is being said and what is not quite being said, and demonstrating their listening to the talker by their behaviour. After 3-4 mins the listener has to summarise the three or four main issues or criteria that they have heard the talker express and then make a tentative sale of a suitable destination. Then one minute to review how close the listener was to what the talker said and needed. Plus one minute to review how well they demonstrated active listening behaviours. Then swap roles and repeat.

Then plenary review, pulling out key learning points. If you can substitute a work-related equivalent to replace the holiday scenario, and allow just a little more time than the minimums I have suggested, then so much the better.

That is about as short as I can get with anything meaningful. And even then it implies that you are doing more before and after the exercise."

Active listening...

Buffy suggests: "Something I recently used with great succcess for getting the message across about Active Listening is below:

  • Group split into pairs, A & B
  • Take Bs out of the room and ask to wait outside
  • Inform the As that whilst they are listening to their partner, everytime their partner says something that evokes their 'inner voice' i.e. they want to ask a question, makes them think about something etc... they put their hand up for five seconds then put it back down.
  • Ask them to do this for the entire conversation - As are not allowed to interact with Bs, ask questions, affirm understanding etc.. As remain silent, just raising their hand everytime their inner voice kicks in.
  • Next inform the Bs outside that they are to speak to As about something of interest, an experience, their last holiday anything positive that has happened to them in the last six months. They have three minutes to talk.
  • Ask Bs back into the room, then allow three minutes of talking from Bs.
  • At the end of the three minutes ask the Bs how they felt whilst talking to A, emotions evoked etc... general answers back are normally 'didn't feel listened too, didn't understand why they were putting their hand up, lost my train of thought becuase they obviously weren't listening,' etc...

You can also ask the As to not only raise their hand, but also lose focus, i.e. start staring out the window, become transfixed with the detail on their partner's jacket, etc...another obvious distraction to their listening.

It's a great simple, quick exercise to run, and then to talk with the group about the power of active listening afterwards.

You can run the exercise again, this time allowing the As to interact, ask questions, become involved in the conversation etc... and compare the two conversations, which was more satisfying etc..."


Mandie suggested some free resources from Skillswise: including factsheets, worksheets and activities.

Active listening skills

K.Shankar Ram adds: "After asking the group to do an exercise as recommended (A & B) I do this which brings out the importance of listening:

  • I ask all the members to write the names of three people whom they consider as good listeners. I personally check with each participant if they have written three names (some find it difficult) then I ask the group if anyone has written the name of the person whom they don't like. Usually nobody writes the name of the person whom they don't like.
  • Then I ask if the three people they have written, come in any one of these categories: liked by them, loved by them or respected by them. The response normally is yes. Even if someone writes the name of the person whom they don't like, that person will come in the group of people respected by the participant.
  • Now I ask them, if they are to be liked or loved or respected by others, how should they be?
  • They see the point that they need to be good listeners if they are to be liked, loved or respected by others."

Round Robin exercise

'graham.fear' advises:

  • Delegates are given a topic to discuss.
  • At various points the trainer says 'stop', at which point the next delegate in line must continue the last delegates sentence starting with their last few words.
  • Once the group gets the hang of this, instead of following the same pattern (1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 1 etc) the trainer names who has to continue next part of the statement, forcing all delegates to listen closely to what everyone is saying instead of just the person before them.
"Though some of the delegates may not like this exercise, I feel that its a good one, as it tests product knowledge while also promoting active listening. Initially all groups started somewhat shakily, but with the exception of one person everyone picked up the idea quickly and were able to do the task, and a marked improvement in responses and flow was seen as the exercise went on. As a group exercise it can be fun, and even competitive, and after a good smoothly completed topic there was an obvious sense of achievement and satisfaction."


Rus says:

  • "If you want to test the listening skills of delegates then you could try a two minute "presentation" followed by eight minutes of theory "lecture".
  • Then ask the delegates to recall as much of the two minute presentation as they can.
  • You will have ten minutes to draw out their recollections and to assess why they remembered bits and why they forgot bits (the "lecture" is only there to provide them with some opportunity to forget).
  • Interestingly you will probably be able to include the visual signals that aided memory/understanding...listening with their eyes..."

A time you weren't listened to

Derek suggests:

  • "Ask people to think of a time when they felt they weren't listened to (could be work, family, doctors, shopping etc)
  • Split into pairs and share stories, the listener must try and identify 2 things: what the person in the story did that demonstrated non-listening and what impact this had on the speaker (usually they feel devalued, angry, upset, hurt).
  • To debrief you can gather all the ideas together and develop some principles of good listening by reversing what happened in the stories."

Bus driver exercise

'Belly1' says: "This can be used as an ice breaker or a listening exercise..."

  • Tell the group that you will be asking questions on what they are about to hear and that they can take notes if they wish.
  • Start by saying you are the bus driver.
  • You then read out a bus route, for example: You are the bus driver at stop no 1, three people got on the bus, one of them was wearing a red hat.
  • At stop 2, four people got on and one got off.
  • At stop 3, two people got on, one person was carring a bag and the person with the red hat got off.
  • Continue with this detailed theme.
  • When you have finished you ask the question: What is the bus drivers age? The majority of people will not have heard the opening line: "you are bus driver".

Do you have any great listening exercises you could add to this thread? If so, add your comment and we can continue to build this useful resource.

12 Responses

  1. Great communication exercise
    Great communication exercise ideas here. Chinese Whispers is always a favourite. Why is it called Chinese Whispers!? Also would be interested in any ideas for non-stop talkers! How do you politely tell them to shut-up or become more self-aware?

    1. The term ‘chinese whispers’
      The term ‘chinese whispers’ has racist origins so the listening game is usually referred to as ‘telephone’ instead nowadays.

    2. This is an interesting
      This is an interesting article with tips to stop people talking:

      I think the ‘Chinese Whispers’ term comes more from the Chinese language being incomprehensible to ‘western’ speakers. (It was originally from a term Chinese Fire Drill – where a group of Chinese sailors drowned because they couldn’t understand the fire drill instructions.) It is colloquially known as Russian Scandal in some parts of the world – equally unacceptable! It is certainly not a term I would consider nowadays – I tend to call it The Grapevine or Messenger activity.

      1. Oh that’s a fascinating
        Oh that’s a fascinating tidbit of information. We learn something new everyday! 🙂

  2. A really clear explanation of
    A really clear explanation of the components to make a campaign work. Thanks ……

  3. This is really good
    This is really good communication exercise tips. It’s a favorite because, this particular exercise not only requires you to actively listen to the speaker but also contribute to the topic without being repetitive of the points mentioned before you’ve had a chance to speak..

  4. Thanks for the suggestions!
    Thanks for the suggestions! I like to take it one step further and use a technical instruction video – I have one for my sewing machine and sometimes use this as a practical exercise! Show a section of the video to the Listener and ask the Listener to then instruct their partner (who hasn’t seen the video) to explain how to use the part of the machine without pointing or demonstrating (so using only verbal instructions) even the simplest section such as threading the machine or inserting the bobbin correctly takes really good listening and communication skills. Yes, I can be such a mean facilitator!

  5. An extremely exhaustive read
    An extremely exhaustive read for somebody that is hoping to sharpen listening abilities among their colleagues! We attempt a ton of activities among our groups on an every other week premise. The ‘Round-Robin Exercise’, specifically, works best when you have a great deal of new individuals on the group and you wish to break the ice between them. It’s a most loved in light of the fact that, this specific exercise not just expects you to effectively tune in to the speaker yet in addition add to the theme without being dull of the focuses said before you’ve had an opportunity to talk…

    Hamza Bashir Ahmad

  6. I think it’s all about that
    I think it’s all about that people would like and are loved to be heard, but not really totally listening to friends or colleagues. Based on my experiences in communication, we should be willing to listen to the others, know who they are, praise them if they deserve a praise, and be a friendly person to the others. Speak and remain your colleagues who make mistake with compassion. This certainly will make you be loved, and people or delegates would like to listen to you want to make you happy.

  7. Ah Chinese whispers! People
    Ah Chinese whispers! People at my office are always suggesting me to improve my listening skills. I need to now work on it seriously! These exercises are very helpful and i am going to start doing immediately!

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Becky Norman

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