Consultation Skills

Active Listening

Great Video Clips on Active Listening

Great animation on Active Listening

5 ways to listen better (TED talk) -- really good

10 ways to have a better conversation (TED talk)

5 essential phrases for active listening

6 tips for active listening

Being a good listener by The School of Life

How to be a good listener by The School of Life

How to be an Active Listener

The power of listening -- esp in conflict

Listening vs Hearing

Listening is often equated with “sitting and doing nothing”, a passive rather than active approach. Yet as Egan (1990) says in “The Skilled Helper”:How many times have you heard someone exclaim, “You’re not listening to what I’m saying!” When the person accused of not listening answers, “I am too; I can repeat everything you’ve said”, the accuser is not comforted. What people look for in attending and listening is not the other person’s ability to repeat their words. A tape recorder would do that perfectly. People want more than physical presence in human communication; they want the other person to be present psychologically, socially and emotionally.

The sense that we are not being listened to is one of the most frustrating feelings imaginable. Toddlers scream about it, teenagers move out, couples split up, companies breakdown.   One of the main reasons this breakdown in communication occurs is that listening (like reading, thinking clearly and focusing) is a skill which we rarely consider to be something requiring knowledge and practice.

There is a difference between hearing and listening.

We assume that, as long as we can hear someone and understand their words that we are listening. Hearing alone, however, is not enough. Among other things, we need to comprehend what’s being said and why, reflect on intentions, and consider non-verbal communication.  Listening is one of the foundations of society – it is what enables us to form meaningful relationships and connections. And yet most of us haven’t thought about how we listen.

As Mortimer J. Adler writes in How to Speak, How to Listen:  We all realize that the ability to read requires training…the same would appear to be true of speaking and listening … training is required … Likewise, skill in listening is either a native gift or it must be acquired by training.

Active listening is a technique for developing our ability to listen.  As a communication technique, it is used in many professional settings but is also valuable for everyday life. 

As Sheldon B. Kopp writes: The therapist can interpret, advise, provide the emotional acceptance and support that nurtures personal growth, and above all, he can listen. I do not mean that he can simply hear the other, but that he will listen actively and purposefully, responding with the instrument of his trade that is, with the personal vulnerability of his own trembling self. This listening is that which will facilitate the patient’s telling of his tale, the telling that can set him free.

Listening is difficult because it involves suppressing your ego long enough to consider what is being said before you respond.   

However, if you listen consciously, you will live more fully!

But remember, listening is a skill.  And you can both teach and learn ANY skill if you practice it again and again. Attentive listening is both active and highly skilled. There are four specific skill areas that can help us to develop our ability to listen attentively: 

  1. Wait-time (letting people speak and being present in that moment) 
  2. Verbal facilitative responses (e.g. mmm, oh i see, go on)  
  3. Non-verbal skills encouraging the story (nodding head, raising eyebrows etc)  
  4. Picking up verbal and non-verbal cues.  

The 3 types of listening

  1. Active listening requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. This is opposed to other listening techniques like reflective listening and empathic listening. 
  2. Reflective listening is where the listener repeats back to the speaker what they have just heard to confirm understanding of both parties.
  3. Empathic listening is about giving people an outlet for their emotions before being able to be more open, sharing experiences and being able to accept new perspectives on the troubled topic that is the reason of emotional suffering.

Listening skills may establish flow to a dialogue rather than closed mindedness.

How good at active listening are you?

Question 1 -- How often do you pay attention to how something is being said and the body language someone is expressing on top of what is being said?

Active listening involves a few, simple skills that really go a long way to communicate to the sender of the message that we really are listening.  We often think we are listening, when actually, the truth is that we are not, or if we are, we are doing so in a very superficial way.    It’s not just about listening to WHAT is being said!   HOW it is being said is equally and in many cases more important than what is being said.   Also, when we communicate we do so verbally and non-verbally. It is very important to be aware of the non-verbal gestures and expressions we use because as they say, actions speak louder than words. 

Question 2 -- How often do you think in your head “Let’s move on, I’ve got more questons to ask.  Wish they would shut up so I can get on with other things I want to ask”?

It is important not to interrupt the sender when he or she is talking because this indicates that you are not that interested in what is being communicated.  Instead, be patient and listen to what is being said in the arena in front of you rather than the arena in your head!  Also pay close attention to the nonverbal signals the sender is giving! These will tell you important clues about how he/she feels about the conversation. 

Question 3 -- Do you do anything to show the other person that you are TRULY listening?   Can you think of what you do that shows you are TRULY listening?

When people feel heard, they then start to value you and your opinions.   If they don’t feel properly heard, they feel disrespected.  Can you think of a time when you felt disrespected?  How did it make you feel?   What opinion did you have for the person that disrespected you?   Were you particularly interested in what they had to say afterwards?   Were you a bit resentful towards them?   Would you want your patients to feel the same way about you?
There nare things you can do to show people you are truly listening.  Don’t interrupt for starters and certainly DO NOT finish of sentences for people.  Be patient.  Learn the art of partience.  The more you do it, the more it will come to you.   Show that you are interested by nodding and using verbal (‘Really?’, ‘Oh goodness’, ‘Wow!’ and non-verbal gesutres (nodding).  If you don’t understand something, ask a clarifying question when there is a natural pause in the dialogue “So when you said he was a brute, what did youe exactly mean?”.    And someimtes, rephrasing the sender’s message sends a clear message that you heard him or her: “Oh, I see, so what you’re saying is that you were deeply embarassed when he said xxxx to you in front of everybody”.   This gives the sender a chance to restate something he or she may have mis-spoke.

Key ingredients for good active listening

Full version of this can be found here: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/coaching-others-use-active-listening-skills/ 

  1. Paying attention,
  2. Don’t judge
  3. Reflect,
  4. Clarify
  5. Extend the conversation
  6. Summarise
  7. Share thoughts
  • Pay attention -- allow “wait time”.  Let them speak.  Don’t cut them off.  Don’t finish their sentences.  Let them tell their story.  Pay attention to what is being said, how it is being said and the non-verbals body language.
  • Don’t judge.  Have an open mind, be open to new perspectives, new possibilities. Hold off critcising, arguing or prematurely selling your point of view.
  • Reflect.  Reflecting is a way to indicate you and the other person are on the same page and that you have heard them.  So paraphrase key points periodically.   If a patient says “I’m sick and tired of doing this again and again and everyone always looks to me to sort the situation out” -- you might say “Sounds like you’re frustrated and overwhelemed by people calling on you all the time.  And that sometimes you need support too?”.
  • Clarify.  If something is unclear or doesn’t make sense -- clarify.  Don’t be afraid of doing this.  After clarifying, you’ll both be sure that you’re on the same page.  That can’t be a bad thing can it?   “Let me see if I’m clear. Are you talking about …?” or “Wait a minute. I didn’t follow you.”  or “I’m a little confused.  Do you mind if you explain..”
  • Extend the conversation at natural points.  Use probing open questions to widen the picture inorder to understand it better.  “What does you wife make of the situation?”.  “What do you think about …?|”,  “How certain are you that you have the full picture of what’s going on?”
  • Summarise.  Restate key themes as the conversation proceeds.  This will confirm to the patient you understand what going on and and solidifies your grasp of the patient’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on mutual responsibilities and follow-up. In fact, you can ask the patient to summarise if you want to,.  “Let me summarize to check my understanding…..  blah blah blah.  Is that about right? “
  • Share.  As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective,  introduce your ideas, feelings, and suggestions. You might talk about a similar experience you had or share an idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation.  From this point, the conversation can shift into problem solving. What hasn’t been tried? What don’t we know? What new approaches could be taken?  Many doctors like to dictate a solutuon.   This is okay but actually your patient will feel more confident and eager if they think through the options and own the solution.

How to improve your active listening

Do you….

  • Have a hard time concentrating on what is being said?
  • Think about what to say next, rather than about what the speaker is saying?
  • Dislike it when someone questions your ideas or actions?
  • Give advice too soon and suggest solutions to problems before the other person has fully explained his or her perspective?
  • Tell people not to feel the way they do?
  • Talk significantly more than the other person talks?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. To boost your listening skills and put your active listening skill set into practice, try these helpful tips:

  1. Limit distractions. Silence any technology and move away from distractions so that you can pay full attention to the other person. Take note of the person’s tone of voice and body language as well.   Do not allow yourself to be distracted by people or other things.
  2. Pay attention to what is being said.   Set a goal of being able to repeat the last sentence the other person says. This keeps your attention on each statement.   And reflect on and evaluate what is being said rather than who is saying it
  3. Be patient with people who are not articulate
  4. Resist the urge to interrupt.   Avoid thinking about what you want to say next.  
  5. Be okay with silence. You don’t have to always reply or have a comment. A break in dialogue can give you a chance to collect your thoughts.
  6. Encourage others to express themselves with smiles, acknowledgements etc.   Encourgage patient to offer ideas and solutions before you give yours. Aim to do 80% of the listening and 20% of the talking.
  7. Restate the key points you heard and ask whether they are accurate. “Let me see whether I heard you correctly…” is an easy way to clarify any confusion.
  8. Do all of this not only with patients but anyone you talk to -- family, friends, work colleagues.   Being a strong, attentive listener will help you be respected and develop more meaningful and positive relationships as a result.   And if you want to be super good at being an attentive active listener -- teach others to do it too.

Summary of micro-skills for active listening

VERBAL SKILLS

  • Paraphrase to show understanding.
  • Ask open-ended questions.  
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Ask specific probing questions to help understand more.
  • Use short verbal affirmations. Short, positive statements will help the speaker feel more comfortable and share more.  “I understand.” “I see.” “Yes, that makes sense.” “I agree.”
  • Display empathy and concern.  “I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this problem. Let’s figure out some ways I can help.”
  • Share your own similar experiences.  It builds relationships and shows you understand the difficulties.
  • Recall previously shared information.  “Last week you mentioned….  how’s that situation now?”
  • Summarise -- to show you’ve got the gist of things.
  • Be comfortable with silence

NON-VERBAL SKILLS

  • Nod. 
  • Smile. 
  • Lean forwards.
  • Avoid distracted movements (like glancing at your watch or phone, audibly sighing, doodling or tapping a pen).
  • Maintain eye contact. 

Closing remarks

“Effective listening is about self-awareness. You must pay attention to whether or not you are only hearing, passively listening, or actively engaging. Effective listening requires concentration and a focused effort that is known as active listening.”

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/vccs-cst100-17fa/chapter/chapter-4-three-as-of-active-listening/

Please leave a comment if you have a tip, spot an error, spot something missing or have a suggestion for a web resource.
And of course, if you have developed a resource of your own, please email it to me to share with others.

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