Social media and active listening skills don’t seem to mix - Counseling Today (2023)

Since the onset of COVID-19, I have observed through my work with clients via telehealth that people’s reliance on social media as a vehicle for connecting with others has intensified. While this engagement may be beneficial and necessary during the pandemic, it does not afford us the opportunity to connect on a more meaningful level. Even more concerning is how this contributes to individuals not directly learning active listening skills.

Simply put, COVID-19 and our over-reliance on social media as a means to connect has impacted the process of ACTIVE communication. Think about a typical post, whether it consists of a picture, a funny quote or the sharing of a political news article. The main benefit of social media is to put information out into the universe as a means of sharing with others. However, this process is usually one-sided and does not typically result in active conversation. Individuals may use social media to stay “up to date” with others, but this might involve simply scrolling through posts without providing any comment or engaging in any conversation.

Think about the typical responses to a post. Individuals can choose to “like” a post, comment or scroll on. These responses lack much opportunity for active exchange. I emphasize “active” because even with a high-engagement social media post in which there is an exchange of comments, there is a passive reactiveness that ensues. Sometimes, the thread may become lengthy and escalate, leading to some inflammatory or not-so productive statements. Regardless, the active listening process is not present.

When we are talking with others in person, common courtesy is to ask, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” The other individual responds with a reflexive, “Good” or “Fine,” and then also asks, “How are you?” But on social media, this quick and simple process is completely bypassed. Typically, there is no exchange of questions. There is a responsiveness, but people are responding to statements, NOT questions.

For example, I recently posted a picture of a family outing. One of my friends wrote, “Beautiful,” and several others “liked” my picture. But people did not typically ask, “How was it?” or “How did it go?” Nor did I expect them to. There is not “room” for an active exchange. I am unidirectionally telling you about my life, not asking you to engage with me. Social media is no substitute for an actual conversation because there is no depth.

Social media and active listening skills don’t seem to mix - Counseling Today (1)

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What happened to asking questions?

More and more, my clients verbalize challenges related to developing meaningful relationships. In many cases, I believe their reliance on social media in place of more interactive engagement is a primary reason for that.

Some people are not being taught how to have a simple conversation — not just an exchange of ideas but questions that can enrich a conversation. The clients I work with who fall into this category, many of whom are younger, are developing without an understanding of the importance of asking questions.

We ask questions to demonstrate that we care about the other person. We also ask questions to obtain more information, more details. We ask each other questions so that we can have a conversation. We ask open-ended and follow-up questions to learn the depths of a person.

Asking questions allows us a window into someone’s inner world, and this glimpse is key in building relationships. Without creating this opportunity, our connection with someone will remain surface level and superficial. I can recall interactions with people in which I shared about myself, but the listener didn’t ask any follow-up questions.

Those experiences feel odd and confusing. It can even come across that the other person is self-involved or selfish. Having such an experience can be deflating and potentially cause a barrier to further interactions.

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Unfortunately, when people use social media as a substitute for connection, these feelings of isolation can be exacerbated, with users not always consciously realizing that they are missing critical aspects of engaging.

Actions to take

As counselors, we are constantly searching for opportunities to help others. So, what can we do in this instance?

1) Educate: One of the many hats counselors can wear is that of the educator. We can talk about the process of active engagement and share strategies to maintain active engagement even during these challenging times. We can directly teach our clients, students and supervisees about the significance of active listening. We can point out why social media does not easily allow for this. Because the process of active listening is typically a strength of counselors and because we are trained in it, we may sometimes forget that it is a developed skill and that it takes education and practice.

2) Role model: We can role model in our everyday lives by taking the time to ask others, “How are you feeling?” Typically, we might ask, “How are you doing?” However, if we want to demonstrate how to have a more meaningful exchange, asking how a person feels gets below the surface and provides an opportunity to show that we care and want to have a more significant interaction. We can also ask, “How can I better help support you?”

In other words, the active engagement process begins by asking a simple question. But once that has been mastered, we can more thoughtfully ask specific questions. In our sessions with clients, we can help them practice this art of asking questions, and they can experience the benefits.

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3) Advocate: Students need to be taught these skills directly. Sometimes we assume that people will learn active listening skills somewhere along their journey in life. However, the only way to really know whether someone has learned a concept is to teach them that concept.

To piggyback on my first point, we need to advocate in our communities and education systems for classes, groups or other learning formats that can be geared toward active listening and interpersonal skills. This is especially important for a younger generation that is much more reliant on social media for communicating. From my perspective, it seems that students are given the opportunity to directly learn these subjects only if they have a formal diagnosis and undergo the process of obtaining an individualized education program.

4) Research: My insights into the impact of social media and technology in general on active listening are not heavily researched. I have found some anecdotal information on blogs and in newsletters, but there do not appear to be many evidenced-based articles available. Given that reality, another important opportunity we have as counselors is to collect data, both formally and informally. We can then share our findings to help inform others.

It is challenging just to survive in these times, let alone do any one of the things I describe above. But when I feel overwhelmed by our collective experience, I focus on what I can control. I can purposefully choose and feel empowered by these choices. I can choose to directly communicate with people rather than relying on social media.

Sometimes when I think about macro-level change, I feel like I am not doing enough. I do believe that our individual efforts have an impact on the larger community, however. Therefore, I remind myself that even the simplest of exchanges can be significant. It starts with asking a question.


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Related reading: See Counseling Today‘s October cover story, “Helping clients develop a healthy relationship with social media


Grace Hipona is a licensed professional counselor for NeuroPsych Wellness Center P.C. and holds a doctorate in counselor education and supervision. Her dissertation focus was on disaster mental health (specifically sheltering in place). She is also a certified substance abuse counselor and approved clinical supervisor. Her experiences over the past 15 years includes working in private practice, managing behavioral health programs, teaching graduate students, and providing supervision for master’s-level counseling students and counselors-in-residence. Contact her at


Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.


How does social media affect listening? ›

Mentimeter observes that social media has had a subtle yet pervasive effect on how we listen as a general skill today. They say: “Social media originated from the power to connect people and give everyone a voice but in fact, it had just made us talk more and listen less.”

What is active listening and how does it benefit the counselling process? ›

Active listening is an effective tool to reduce the emotion of a situation. Every time the counsellor correctly labels an emotion, the intensity of it dissipates like bursting a bubble. The speaker feels heard and understood. Once the emotional level has been reduced, reasoning abilities can function more effectively.

What are active listening skills in counseling? ›

a psychotherapeutic technique in which the therapist listens to a client closely, asking questions as needed, in order to fully understand the content of the message and the depth of the client's emotion. The therapist typically restates what has been said to ensure accurate understanding.

Why is active listening an important skill for counselors? ›

Good listening skills in counselling establishes trust, helps the client open up and disclose their thoughts and encourages them to share their emotions, thereby facilitating the gathering of valuable information about the client that would in turn aid the counseling process.

How does social media affect people's communication? ›

Social media has some damaging effects on communication skills and unfortunately lasting damaging effects when social media is used in excess or obsessively. One, it affects the ways individuals react to emotions, social cues or nonverbal cues, as it erases this important aspect of the basis of communication.

What are the social barriers in listening? ›

5.2: Barriers to Effective Listening
  • Environmental and Physical Barriers to Listening.
  • Cognitive and Personal Barriers to Listening.
  • Difference between Speech and Thought Rate.
  • Lack of Listening Preparation.
  • Bad Messages and/or Speakers.
  • Prejudice.
  • Bad Listening Practices.
  • Interrupting.
2 Mar 2022

What is the best approach for active listening? ›

10 tips for active listening
  • Face the speaker and have eye contact. ...
  • “Listen” to non-verbal cues too. ...
  • Don't interrupt. ...
  • Listen without judging, or jumping to conclusions. ...
  • Don't start planning what to say next. ...
  • Don't impose your opinions or solutions. ...
  • Stay focused. ...
  • Ask questions.

How can you improve listening skills to provide effective counseling? ›

As a counsellor you should never bring your own personal experiences into the situation. Paraphrase to check and show your understanding. Wait for natural pauses from the speaker before asking questions. Give verbal (“yes, I see”) and non-verbal acknowledgements (nodding) to show you are listening.

Why is active listening important and when do you need to use it? ›

True, active listening takes concentration, but will demonstrate your interest in others' views, gain trust and enable you to gain a deeper understanding of issues and situations. Stakeholders may have questions, concerns and challenges they want to raise (see enabling collaboration by working with resistance).

How do you use active listening skills examples? ›

Examples of Active Listening Techniques

Demonstrating concern. Paraphrasing to show understanding. Using nonverbal cues that show understanding such as nodding, eye contact, and leaning forward. Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”

How important is active listening in communication? ›

Active listening is an important part of your communication skill set because it encourages openness, honesty, and success. When you pay attention to your conversation partner, you show that person they are being heard, thus building trust and making that person feel like their words matter to you.

What is the most important aspect of active listening? ›

Active listening requires you to listen attentively to a speaker, understand what they're saying, respond and reflect on what's being said, and retain the information for later. This keeps both listener and speaker actively engaged in the conversation.

What are Negative Impact of social media? ›

Social media harms

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.

How social media is taking away your social skills? ›

With people keeping their heads in their phones more than talking face to face, they are neglecting rudimentary social skills. The way people maintain eye contact and posture and the words they use are all affected by using the phone too much.

What are 2 challenges you faced when active listening? ›

These are:
  • External Distractions. Physical distractions or things in your work environment that divert your attention away from the person with whom you're communicating.
  • Speaker Distractions. ...
  • Message Intent/Semantics. ...
  • Emotional Language. ...
  • Personal Perspective.

Why is active listening difficult? ›

Active Listening is Difficult

We think four times faster than a person can speak, which means we need only about 25% of our mental capacity to hear the content of the message. We have 75% left, so our mind wanders.

What are the barriers of listening skills and how it effects on students? ›

The difference between speech and thought rate connects to personal barriers to listening, as personal concerns are often the focus of competing thoughts that can take us away from listening and challenge our ability to concentrate on others' messages.

What is another word for active listening? ›

What is another word for active listening?
conscious listeningdeep listening
deliberate listeningmindful listening

How do you help someone with better listening skills? ›

  1. Stay Present. Sometimes people feign listening, but they're really just waiting for their friend to stop talking so they can say whatever they've been mentally rehearsing while they've been pretending to listen. ...
  2. Don't Give Advice. ...
  3. Trust the Process. ...
  4. Let Things Even out Over Time.
15 Aug 2021

Which type of listening is most appropriate for counseling situations? ›

Empathetic or therapeutic listening

Empathetic listening is useful to help you see from other people's perspectives. Using this type of listening, you can try to understand someone else's point of view as they're speaking.

What does it mean to listen actively and why is it important explain? ›

Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. It is an important first step to defuse the situation and seek solutions to problems. This lesson gives students the opportunity to identify what active listening is and why it is important in managing conflicts.

How would you describe good listening skills? ›

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things: Not talking when others are speaking. Letting others know you're listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”) Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word.

What are five important active listening techniques? ›

They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are listening to what they say.
  • Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. ...
  • Show that you are listening. ...
  • Provide feedback. ...
  • Defer judgment. ...
  • Respond Appropriately.

What are the 3 main ideas of active listening? ›

Listening is a conscious activity based on three basic skills: attitude, attention, and adjustment. These skills are known collectively as triple-A listening. A positive attitude paves the way for open-mindedness.

When should you practice active listening skills? ›

1. When should you practice active listening skills ? When you encounter new ideas. When you sense the other person is not verbalizing their problem.

What kind of active listening is the most dominant in Counselling sessions? ›

Reflective Listening

This is the process of restating what has just been said, so that the client understands that you have clearly heard what they have disclosed. It is confirmation that a counsellor validates the client, by acknowledging what is being said, and by providing further opportunity to talk.

What are the factors affecting listening? ›

As well as this, the factors affecting listening comprehension are also divided into four groups: (1) language-based factors, (2) background factors, (3) learner-based factors, and (4) teacher–based factors (Türel, 1996, pp. 28-42).

Why does listening matter on social media? ›

Why is social listening important? Social listening helps companies understand the conversation surrounding their brand and the products and services they offer. It provides valuable consumer data that companies can use to gauge brand awareness and improve their products and services.

How does technology affect listening? ›

In a world driven by digital distractions, we are losing the art of listening, our ability to empathize and to interact with the people around us. While there are benefits to technological advances that can increase capability for socialization, the virtual world leads us — quite ironically — to social isolation.

What are the factors affecting listening in communication? ›

Noise, Awkward seating positions and temperature

Ecological factors, for example, noise, temperature and awkward seating positions can make us concentrate our attention on other factors alongside what the speaker is saying. Attempt to control environmental factors at whatever points conceivable.

What is the biggest factor that interfere with listening? ›

Noise is one of the biggest factors to interfere with listening; it can be defined as anything that interferes with your ability to attend to and understand a message.

How do you improve your listening skills? ›

Ways to improve your listening skills
  1. Maintain eye contact with the speaker. ...
  2. Visualize what the speaker is saying. ...
  3. Limit judgments. ...
  4. Don't interrupt. ...
  5. Wait for a pause to ask questions. ...
  6. Ask clarifying questions. ...
  7. Empathize with the speaker. ...
  8. Pay attention to nonverbal cues.

What is the most important factor in listening? ›

All The Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension
  1. Your pronunciation. ...
  2. Your grammar. ...
  3. Knowledge of how sounds merge or get reduced. ...
  4. Your overall listening time. ...
  5. Visual support. ...
  6. Vocabulary size. ...
  7. Concentration.

Does social media listen to your conversations? ›

Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people's conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people's interests and other profile information – not what you're talking out loud about."

What is the most important aspect of social listening? ›

It's a balance between listening and talking, while understanding the needs of the other person – because you are in tune with how they are feeling. Whereby listening in relationships is one of the most important aspects to a healthy dynamic, social listening is the equivalent in social media marketing.

How do you conduct social media listening? ›

Social Listening Strategy

Stay on top of all your brand mentions in real-time and from one place. Acquire the most genuine and up-to-date feedback. Gain insights into online conversations mentioning your brand. Track the volume of online conversations and changes in sentiment.

What stops us from active listening? ›

These are:
  1. External Distractions. Physical distractions or things in your work environment that divert your attention away from the person with whom you're communicating.
  2. Speaker Distractions. ...
  3. Message Intent/Semantics. ...
  4. Emotional Language. ...
  5. Personal Perspective.

What are the two important tools for developing listening skills? ›

10 Tools for Developing Students' Listening Skills
  • LyricsTraining. This app has long been a favourite of mine as it combines listening to songs with learning a language. ...
  • Listen Notes. ...
  • Accent Rosie. ...
  • TeachVid. ...
  • Read Aloud. ...
  • Synth. ...
  • Fluid Data. ...
  • Listen and Write.
23 Sept 2019

How does technology affect people's communication? ›

Technology affects communication by making it possible to work closely with clients who may even be on the other side of the planet. It is possible to maintain communications with clients from a remote setting, using apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

What are the common barriers to the listening process? ›

We'll discuss five different barriers to effective listening: Information overload, internal and external distractions, prejudice or prejudging, and rate of speech and thought.

What are the three most common barriers to listening? ›

Top 3 Obstacles to Listening
  • Over-assessment of Skills. In one study, a group of managers were asked to rate their listening skills. ...
  • Prejudgment. ...
  • Ambushing. ...
  • Perspective-taking. ...
  • Asking Questions.
4 Oct 2016

What factors can cause people to have poor listening skills? ›

Listening barriers may be psychological (e.g., the listener's emotions) or physical (e.g., noise and visual distraction). However, some of the most common barriers to effective listening include low concentration, lack of prioritization, poor judgement, and focusing on style rather than substance.


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