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.