Difference Between Active Listening And Solution-Focused Listening

How can we generate meaningful conversations that help others move forward in their situation?


Why do some conversations not generate any momentum?


Good communication is crucial in today’s fast-paced business world, especially when talking to your colleagues or your boss. The first step to building good communication always starts with effective listening skills.


What then is the best way to listen when others are speaking? You most probably are familiar with active listening but have you heard of solution-focused listening?


Let us explore the key differences between these two techniques of effective listening and how this can positively transform the way we communicate at work.


How To Practise Active Listening?

Two women in a discussion practising active listening.

Active listening is a skill widely taught in most communication courses.


In active listening, a person makes a conscious effort to hear what is being said and tries to understand the complete message. The main goal is to create a supportive and open environment for the person sharing to express their thoughts vulnerably and honestly.


Your role here would be to build this safe space for your speaker.


#1 Nonverbal Cues

This refers to cues like eye contact, nodding, and body posture to communicate to the speaker that they are present and paying attention. This lets the speaker feel that you are interested in and care about what he is going to share.


#2 Verbal Cues

Unlike nonverbal cues, these include paraphrasing, summarizing, and asking questions to understand what the speaker is saying. This also lets the speaker know that you are being intentional to have a comprehensive understanding of the situation.


#3 Empathy

In responding to the speaker, express empathy and let the speaker know that their feelings are validated. This builds trust and strengthens the relationship between both of you.


#4 No Judgment

Focus on the speaker’s perspective and emotions! More often than not, they are not looking for advice, but rather, they are looking for someone to affirm their desires and emotions.


Some examples of active listening include: 

  • “This sounds like a difficult situation.” 
  • “I’m here for you if you want to tell me more about it.”


Hence, active listening is useful in gaining someone’s trust, especially when he is feeling emotional in the moment.

How To Practise Solution-Focused Listening? 

Two women encouraging and empowering each other through solution-focused listening.

Solution-focused listening, on the other hand, is more oriented toward helping the speaker find solutions to their problems. While active listening is a useful tool in acknowledging one’s emotions, solution-focused listening would be effective if your goal is to help the speaker move forward.

Your role here would be to pick up clues that can empower the speaker to work towards success.

#1 Listen For Strengths

Everyone has talents, strengths and abilities. Help the speaker identify what he is good at so that he can leverage it to get better results more easily.

#2 Listen For Resources

Everyone has the resources needed to make progressive steps. Draw the speaker’s attention to what is available as using existing expertise reduces inertia to start moving forward.

#3 Listen For Achievements

No matter how big or small, in personal life or work, everyone has some level of achievement. The skills and qualities the speaker demonstrated in these achievements can be transferable. Encourage him by letting him feel like he is capable of creating success again.

#4 Listen For Competence

Similar to achievements, competencies can be transferrable. The knowledge or experience the speaker has in a certain area can be applied to the challenge he is struggling with.

#5 Listen For Desires

Behind the speaker’s frustration and complaints, learn to listen to his desire. Many people know what they do not want and have the tendency to dwell on it or spiral down negative emotions.

When you remind the speaker of what he wants, he can remain focused on the goal and start identifying small steps to move towards that goal.

Some examples of solution-focused listening include: 

  • “What have you tried so far to solve this problem?”
  • “What are your strengths and resources that you can use to solve this problem?”

“Anything that prompts the client to say that ‘things are better’ needs to be identified as verification of change, and anything that is new or different or more effective that the client reports, needs to be encouraged or amplified."

Solution-focused listening is most effective when one feels stuck in a problem and is looking for ways to make change and move forward.

Here is an infographic to summarise the differences between active listening and solution-focused listening.

infographic table to summarise the difference between active listening and solution-focused listening.

Which type of listening is best depends on the situation. If the speaker is simply looking to vent or to be heard, then active listening is appropriate. If the speaker is looking for help to solve a problem, then solution-focused listening may be helpful. 

If you are interested in finding out more about how the solution-focused approach can meet your needs and drive success in your teams, feel free to get on a non-obligatory call with us.

Picture of Kenneth Kwan, CSP
Kenneth Kwan, CSP

Kenneth Kwan is an internationally recognized Author, Global Leadership and Motivational Speaker, renowned for his ability to inspire and empower audiences worldwide. With over a decade of experience, he has spoken to leaders from 40 countries, helping transform cultures and shift mindsets within Multi-National Companies (MNCs) and Government Organizations. Kenneth’s expertise in solution-focused thinking and strategic planning has guided numerous businesses toward significant results and high-performance environments. Featured in esteemed media outlets like Channel News Asia and Malaysia's BFM89.9, his insights on leadership and motivation are highly sought after. Kenneth's book, "Small Steps To Big Changes," showcases his profound wisdom and practical strategies, making a lasting impact in lectures and training programs across the region.