Active listening emerged from early 1940’s research into what made an effective counselor. This inquiry, largely led by Carl Rogers and his colleagues in clinical psychology, endeavored to understand why some counselors were better than others at addressing their client’s personal problems. They discovered that those who listened more than they talked were more effective. Until then, helping people with their personal problems was believed to require asking probing questions, giving information, advising, judging, analyzing, and reassuring.2 These techniques would later become barriers to active listening.
In 1957, Carl Rogers and Richard Farson coined the term active listening, in a short book presenting the method as one that “requires that we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us. More than that, we must convey to the speaker that we are seeing things from his point of view.”3 Rogers and Farson claimed that people who are listened to in this “new and special way” in turn become more emotionally mature and less defensive as they are better able to listen to themselves and understand what they are feeling and thinking.
Thomas Gordon, a colleague of Rogers, promoted active listening as a communication skill through his Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) program in 1962. Gordon went on to publish a book on the P.E.T. in 1970,4 where his ideas became widely popularized as a form of modern parenting philosophy. Gordon also later created a list of 12 roadblocks to communication that included many of the traditional strategies once thought to be crucial to helping people, such as advising and supporting.