How To Actively Listen with Skill (Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase and Prime)



You can improve your active listening skills if you focus on 4 of the most powerful listening skills.

4 of the most powerful active listening skills are:  Ask, mirror, paraphrase and prime.

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler teach you how asking, mirroring, paraphrasing and priming help you build rapport, stay connected, and listen more effectively.

4 Power Listening Tools (AMPP)

According to Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, AMPP stands for:

  1. Ask.  Ask the other person what’s really going on.
  2. Mirror.  Mirror means describe how the other person looks or acts (e.g. you seem upset, you seem angry at me). 
  3. Paraphrase.  Paraphrase what you’ve heard using your own words.
  4. Prime. Prime means take your best guess at what the other person might be thinking.

Ask to Get Things Rolling

To break a downward spiral, invite the other person to talk about what’s really going on.

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“The easiest and most straightforward way to encourage others to share their Path to Action is simply to invite them to express themselves. 

For example, often all it takes to break an impasse is to seek to understand other’s views.  When we show genuine interest, people feel less compelled to use silence or violence.”

Mirror to Confirm Feelings

When another person’s tone of voice or gestures are inconsistent with their words, Patterson, try “mirroring”

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“When we mirror, as the name suggests, we hold a mirror up to the other person – describing how they look or act. 

Although we may not understand other’s stories or facts, we can see their actions and get clues about their feelings.”

Paraphrase to Acknowledge the Story

To build additional safety in the conversation, try paraphrasing what you’ve heard.

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“Asking and mirroring may help you get part of the other person’s story out into the open.  When you get a clue about why the person is feeling as he or she does, you can build additional safety by paraphrasing what you’ve heard. 

Be careful not to simply parrot back what was said.  Instead, put the message in your own words – usually in an abbreviated form.”

Prime When You’re Getting Nowhere

Consider priming when you think the other person still has something to share and they might do so with a little more effort on your part.

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler write:

“The power-listening term priming comes from the expression “priming the pump.”  If you’ve ever worked an old-fashioned hand pump, you understand the metaphor. 

With a pump, you often have to pour some water into it to get it running. 

Then it works just fine. 

When it comes to power listening, sometimes you have to offer your best guess at what the other person is thinking or feeling. 

You have to pour some meaning into the pool before the other person will do the same.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Ask the other person what’s really going on.  Direct and effective.
  • Mirror back to the person what you see.   Reflect back what you see.
  • Paraphrase back in your own words.  Don’t parrot back.  Use your own words to check what you’ve heard.
  • Prime the pump to get the dialogue flowing.  Share your best guess for what’s going on to encourage the other person to open up.

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