Active Listening

Adapted from Conflict Resolution Services, St. Stephen’s Community House, Toronto

The ability to listen is an important skill in interpersonal communication, improving personal relationships by reducing conflict, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

WHAT IS ACTIVE LISTENING?
Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others by focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending your own frame of reference and suspending judgment are important to fully attend to the speaker.
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Demonstrate active listening though:

I. ENCOURAGING PHRASES

Why?
To show interest; to encourage the speaker to keep talking.

How:
Do not agree or disagree; use neutral words; vary your tone
of voice; use body language. Nod your head; face the speaker.

Examples:
“Can you tell me more about it?”
“What happened next?”
“Uh-huh.”

II. CLARIFYING PHRASES

Why?
To help you understand what the speaker says; get more information.

How:
Ask questions so that the speaker can help you understand.

Examples:
“When did this happen?”
“Can you help me picture the situation?”

III. RESTATING, PARAPHRASING

Why?
To show that you are listening and understanding what is being said; to check your interpretation of what you have heard to make sure you do understand correctly.

How:
Using your own words, state briefly what the other person has said.

Examples:
“So, as you see it, I was being unfair when I gave you that assignment?”
“If I understand you correctly, you want your roommate to take a greater share in doing the housework?”

IV. REFLECTIVE PHRASING

Why?
To show that you understand how the speaker FEELS; to help the speaker evaluate their own feelings after hearing them expressed
by someone else.

How?
Identify the speaker’s emotion.

Examples:
“This situation has made you very angry.”
“You felt humiliated when you were criticized in front of your peers.”

V. SUMMARIZING

Why?
To review progress; to pull important ideas, facts, and feelings together; to establish a basis for further discussion.

How:
Restate the major ideas that have been expressed, including
the feelings.

Examples:
“You’re stressed and exhausted because you’re being kept awake most nights by loud music from next door. When you tried to ask for a couple of days off, your supervisor seemed angry, and that has made tense. Is that a fair summary of what you’ve said so far?”

VI. VALIDATING

Why?
To acknowledge the worthiness of the speaker; to show respect without necessarily agreeing with what the speaker says.

How:
Recognize the value to the speaker of their issues and feelings; show appreciation for their efforts and actions.

Examples:
“I know it has taken a lot of courage for you to speak to me about this.”
“You take a lot of pride in your ability and skills.”
“Thank you for spending the time we needed to work this out.”
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BARRIERS TO CONSIDER
When interacting, people may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next, and are often not listening attentively to one another.

The listener’s personal interpretation will also play a role.
These barriers should be considered.

Rules for Good Listening

Adapted from “Human Resources in Business”

STOP TALKING
You cannot listen if you are talking.

PUT THE TALKER AT EASE
Help them feel that they are free to talk.
This is called permissive environment.

SHOW THEM THAT YOU WANT TO LISTEN
Look and act interested. Do not read, or do anything else while they talk.
Listen to understand, rather than to respond.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS
Do not doodle, tap or shuffle papers. Would it be quieter if you shut the door?
Give full attention.

EMPATHIZE
Try to put yourself in their shoes so you can see their point of view.

BE PATIENT
Do not start for the door or walk away.
Allow plenty of time and do not interrupt.

HOLD YOUR TEMPER
An angry person gets the wrong meaning from words.

GO EASY ON ARGUMENT AND CRITICISM
This puts the talker on the defensive.

ASK QUESTIONS
This encourages them to talk and shows you are listening.

STOP TALKING
This is the FIRST and LAST rule for good listening because all others depend on it. It is not possible to do a good job listening while you are talking.

A gentle reminder:
Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, but one tongue—to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.” ~ Socrates

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are how people relate to one another.

Successful Peer Mentors/student leaders develop good interpersonal skills:

  • The ability to balance one’s own emotions and opinions while
    relating to others, and a genuine interest in developing a shared understanding where each of you has accurate information about the other’s ideas and suggestions, feelings, intentions, emotional responses and assumptions.

Effective interpersonal communication include the following skills:

RECEPTION SKILLS
A structured way of active listening and responding to others by
focusing attention on the speaker:

  • Listen, be encouraging, and clarify (check that you understand by restating or paraphrasing). Show concern for the person and their feelings, summarize and validate.

TRANSMISSION SKILLS
Transmit information (speak/share information) without accusation or judgement.
Suspend your own frame of reference and judgment to fully attend to the speaker:

  • Describe actions/details without generalizing about motives or attitudes. E.g. “Bob has done most of the talking and the rest of us have said very little”, rather than “Bob likes to hog the spotlight”.

Identify feelings by conveying information about your inner state and not as an accusation. E.g. “I felt hurt when you ignored my comment”, rather than “You’re rude“. “I am disappointed that you forgot”, rather than “You don’t care about me”.

Types of PM Assistance

Seven types of Peer Mentor (PM) assistance:

HELPING Student Mentees think more positively and proactively
LISTENING when Student Mentees have questions or problems
IDENTIFYING Student Mentee’s challenges and providing feedback
ENCOURAGING positive behaviors; confronting negative behavior
PROVIDING appropriate information and support
SHARING your relevant experiences, knowledge and skills
REFERRING students to the appropriate services