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Improving Listening Skills

Chapter 2: Improving Listening Skills


Tools for Communications


By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

What are three types of effective listening?

 

1. Paraphrasing

To paraphrase, one simply rewords what another individual has said. For example, the speaker might say, She was foolish to quit her job. The listener might respond, I hear you saying that you believe she shouldn't have quit. What has occurred is paraphrasing where the listener has clarified what the speaker has said.

 

Example Paraphrase: Restating what another person has said in your own words.
Speaker: It just wasn't the right thing for him to do.
Listener: You believe he shouldn't have done that

 

2. Open questions
An open question explores a person's statement without requiring a simple yes or no answer. The basic difference between an open question and a closed question is what they provide the person being asked. When you are asked an open question it helps you think more about an issue. A closed question will not do that. It may force you to answer before you are ready, or require a yes or no answer that doesn't allow more thinking about the issue. Closed questions close the door on further thought, while open questions open the door. For example, the speaker might say, I don't like my job. The listener might respond, What about your job don't you like? or, Tell me more about your feelings regarding your job.

 

Example Open Question: A question that helps a person explore their feelings (rather than forcing a yes, no, or other certain answer).
Speaker: I didn't like that show.
Listener: What didn't you like about it?

3. Feelings reflection
Feelings reflection
is a response in which you express a feeling or emotion you have experienced in reference to a particular statement. For example, the speaker might say, I get sick of working so much overtime! The listener might respond, I hear you feeling angry and resentful at being asked to work so much overtime. Feeling reflections are perhaps the most difficult active listening responses to make. Not only do you actively listen to what is being said but also you actively listen for what is being felt. When you make a feeling reflection, you are reflecting back what you hear of another's feelings. It is similar to paraphrasing; however, you repeat what you heard them feeling instead of what you heard them saying. To understand what individuals are feeling, you must listen to their words, to their tone of voice, and watch their body signals. By observing all three you can begin to guess their feelings.

 

Example Feeling Reflection: your perception of the speaker's feelings based on words, tone, and body language.
Speaker: I can't stand to be kept waiting!
Listener:
You're pacing the floor and your tone of voice tells me you feel this is an abuse of your time.

How can listening skills be improved?

  • Listen carefully so that you will be able to understand, comprehend, and evaluate. Careful listening will require a conscious effort on your part. You must be aware of the verbal and nonverbal messages (reading between the lines).
  • Be mentally and physically prepared to listen. Put other thoughts out of your mind. Your attention will be diverted from listening if you try to think of answers in advance.
  • You can't hear if YOU do all the talking. Don't talk too much.
  • Think about the topic in advance, if possible. Be prepared to listen.
  • Listen with empathy. See the situation from the other's point of view. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Be courteous; don't interrupt. Take notes if you worry about forgetting a particular point.
  • Avoid stereotyping individuals by making assumptions about how you expect them to act. This will bias your listening.
  • Listen to how something is said. Be alert for what is left unsaid.
  • Make certain everyone involved gets an opportunity to voice their opinions. Don't let one person dominate the conversation.
  • Face those you are talking with, lean slightly forward, and make eye contact. Use your body position and movements to show your interest, concern.

Roadblocks to effective listening

The following types of responses indicate ineffective listening:

  • warning interrogating preaching ordering
  • judging diverting analyzing blaming
  • labeling moralizing probing ridiculing
  • threatening reassuring distracting sympathizing
  • demanding interpreting teaching withdrawing
  • giving solutions scolding praising advising
  • criticizing directing lecturing name–calling

 

Reasons to improve listening skills

  • To avoid saying the wrong thing, being tactless.
  • To dissipate strong feelings.
  • To learn to accept feelings (yours and others).
  • To generate a feeling of caring.
  • To help people start listening to you.
  • To increase the other person's confidence in you.
  • To make the other person feel important and recognized.
  • To be sure you both are on the same wavelength.
  • To be sure you both are focused on the same topic.
  • To check that you both are on target.

Questions to ask yourself in a conversation

  • What am I doing in this interaction?
  • What are my strategies or goals in communicating this message?
  • Where do I want to go in this conversation?
  • What is my body feeling right now in this conversation?
  • What pressures am I feeling in talking with this person?
  • What could I say differently?
  • How could I say that so as to show I understood?
  • What am I feeling at this time?
  • What impulses do I have?
  • What is my decision–making process in this conversation?
  • How is she feeling toward me?
  • What do I want or not want him to feel?
  • What risks am I experiencing in this conversation?
  • How is her appearance affecting me?
  • What fantasy is going on in my head in this dialogue?
  • What cues of the other am I responding to?
  • How does his behavior affect my approach in this discussion?
  • How genuine am I feeling at this time?
  • How does what I say reflect genuineness to her?
  • How could I have made what I just said more empathetic? How did I demonstrate respect for the other?
  • How is my level of communication and vocabulary affecting the dialogue?
  • What different style of communication could I use to reach her better?
  • How attentive am I to him at this time?
  • How do I feel about her response?
  • How comfortable am I feeling at this time?
  • How are my values affecting what I am hearing at this time?
  • What is the level of my trust at this time?
  • How did that question further the discussion and show I was listening?
  • How mutually helpful is this conversation at this time?
  • How honest are my statements with her?
  • How comfortable am I in honestly labeling what I see going on with him?
  • What can I do to improve the feedback I am giving the other?
  • How well am I tuning into her feelings?
  • What responses can I use to demonstrate that I am with the other?
Feelings for which you can be listening:Use these lists of words to help you as you listen for the feelings of others in your conversations. Try to identify the other person's feeling, then reflect them back to the speaker.

 

POSITIVE FEELINGS

Love, Affection, Concern, Interest
absorbed  altruistic  brotherly  congenial admired  amiable  caring  conscientious adorable  benevolent  charitable  considerate affected  benign  Christian  cooperative affectionate  big–hearted  compassionate cordial agreeable  honest  comforting  courteous dedicated  honorable  concerned  curious devoted  hospitable  neighborly  sweet easy–going  humane  nice  sympathetic empathetic  inquiring  obliging tender engrossed  inquisitive  open  thoughtful excited  interested  optimistic  tolerant fascinated  intrigued  patient truthful fair just  peaceful trustworthy  faithful  kind  pleasant  understanding forgiving  kind–hearted  polite unselfish friendly  kindly  reasonable  warm  generous  lenient  receptive warm–hearted genuine  good–natured  reliable  well–meaning giving  loving  respectful  wise good  mellow  responsible  helpful good–humored mild sensitive moral

 

Elation, Joy

airy exalted hilarious serene amused excellent humorous sparkling animated excited in high spirit spirited at ease exhilarated inspired splendid blissful exaltation jolly sunny buoyant fantastic jovial superb bright festive joyful terrific brilliant fine joyous thrilled calm fit jubilant tranquil cheerful free lighthearted tremendous comfortable frisky lively triumphant comical gay magnificent turned on complacent genial majestic vivacious contented glad marvelous witty convivial gleeful merry wonderful delighted glorious overjoyed easy ecstatic good peaceful enthusiastic elated grand playful happy elevated gratified pleasant proud enchanted great pleased satisfied

 

Eager

agog avid enthusiastic hot–headed anxious desirous fervent intense ardent earnest keen zealous

 

Potency, Strength, Fearlessness

able durable influential sharp adequate dynamic intense skillful assured effective intrepid spirited audacious encouraged lion–hearted stable authoritative energetic macho stouthearted bold enterprising manly strong brave fearless mighty sure capable firm powerful dauntless competent forceful reassured tough confident gallant resolute virile courageous hardy robust well–equipped daring healthy secure determined dauntless self–confident important 

NEGATIVE FEELINGS

Depressed, Sad

abandoned despised horrible pathetic alien despondent humiliated pitiful alienated destroyed ill at ease rebuked alone discarded in the dumps regretful annihilate disconsolate jilted reprimanded awful discontented joyless rotten battered discouraged kaput ruined below par disfavored left out run down blue disheartened loathed sans burned dismal lonely somber cast off done for lonesome sorrowful cheapened downcast lousy spiritless cheerless downhearted low stranded crestfallen downtrodden melancholy sulky crushed dreadful miserable sullen dark dreary mishandled tearful debased estranged mistreated terrible defeated excluded moody unhappy degraded flat moping unloved dejected forlorn mournful upset demolished forsaken obsolete valueless depressed frowning ostracized washed up desolate funeral out of sorts whipped despair gloomy overlooked woeful grim glum hated worthless heavy–hearted wrecked grieving burdened 


Distress, Hurt

aching disliked impatient skeptical afflicted displeased imprisoned speechless agonized dissatisfied injured strained anguished distrustful in pain stressed at the feet of disturbed lost suffering at the mercy of doubtful mournful suspicious awkward foolish nauseated swamped badgered futile offended the plaything of bewildered grief pained the puppet of blameworthy grieved pathetic tormented clumsy heartbroken perplexed touchy confused helpless puzzled tragic constrained hindered ridiculous ungainly crushed impaired sickened unlucky disgusted privation silly unpopular unsatisfied unsure victimized worried

 

Fear, Anxiety

afraid fainthearted jittery shy aghast fearful jumpy strained agitated fidgety menaced stressful alarmed frightened misgiving suspicious anxious hesitant nervous tense appalled high anxiety on edge terrified apprehensive horrified overwhelmed terror–stricken awed hysterical panicky threatened bashful ill at ease paranoid timid chicken in fear petrified timorous cowardly insecure quaking tremulous desperate intimidated restless uncomfortable dismayed jealous scared uneasy doubtful bullied shaky worrying dread embarrassed shocked yellow


Belittling, Criticism, Scorn

abused diminished made light of ridiculed belittled discredited maligned roasted branded disdained minimized scoffed at carped at disgraced mocked scorned caviled at disparaged neglected shamed censured humiliated not taken seriously slammed criticized ignored overlooked slandered defamed jeered poked fun at slighted deflated lampooned pooh–poohed thought nothing of deprecated laughed at pulled to pieces underestimated spurned libeled put down underrated derided 


Doubtful

distrustful indecisive questioning unbelieving dubious misgiving skeptical uncertain hesitant perplexed suspicious incredulity 


Impotency, Inadequacy

anemic flimsy insecure unable broken fragile insufficient unarmed broken down frail lame uncertain chicken–hearted harmless maimed unfit cowardly helpless meek unimportant crippled impotent nerveless unqualified debilitated inadequate paralyzed unsound defective incapable powerless unsubstantiated deficient incompetent puny useless demoralized indefensible shaken vulnerable disabled ineffective shaky weak effeminate inefficient sickly weak–hearted exhausted inept small wimp exposed inferior strengthless rudderless feeble infirm trivial dead beat 

 

Anger, Hostility, Cruelty

aggravated cross hypercritical rebellious agitated cruel ill–tempered reckless aggressive deadly impatient resentful angry cool incensed revengeful annoyed corrosive inconsiderate rough antagonistic dictatorial indignant rude arrogant disagreeable inflamed ruthless austere discontented infuriated sadistic bad–tempered dogmatic inhuman savage belligerent enraged insensitive severe bigoted envious intolerable spiteful biting fierce intolerant stern bloodthirsty fuming irritated stormy blunt furious irate sulky boiling gruesome mad sullen bullying hard malicious unfeeling callous hard–hearted mean unfriendly cantankerous harsh murderous unmerciful cold–blooded hateful nasty unruly combative heartless obstinate vicious contrary hellish offended vindictive cranky hideous opposed violent critical hostile oppressive worked–up provoked prejudiced outraged wrathful poisonous piqued perturbed wrought–up

Practice listening for feelings

In your journal write down either a paraphrase, an open question, or a feelings–reflection listening response for each of the following statements. First identify the feelings then give your response. Compare your answers with a friend's. Discuss the feelings identification and appropriateness of your responses.


1. I am overwhelmed with work and can't get to your project yet.

Feelings:

Response:


2. No one ever appreciates me around here!

Feelings:

Response:


3. I am lost. I'll never get this job done. Can you help me with this?

Feelings:

Response:


4. When I was younger I never knew what to expect in my house. One day Dad would be happy and carefree, and the next day he might be angry and hateful.

Feelings:

Response:


5. I always work hard to achieve the goals of my group. I can't believe everyone else doesn't feel that way.

Feelings:

Response:


6. I am so upset. I hate bringing the baby to the mall. Everyone stares at him. I get so embarrassed, I could cry!

Feelings:

Response:


7. Why doesn't anyone understand how I feel? I try my hardest but it never seems to matter. They still argue and fight all the time.

Feelings:

Response:


8. I would rather die than let anyone know how I feel about it.

Feelings:

Response:


9. No one but me is responsible for what happens to me. Butt out of my business and I'll butt out of yours.

Feelings:

Response:


10. Why did this have to happen to me? What did I do wrong? Why has God chosen me for this?

Feelings:

Response:


11. Why doesn't anyone ever hear me? I am so anxious for them to give me a chance but they all seem busy and preoccupied. I don't think they really care about me. anymore.

Feelings:

Response:


12. You are all a bunch of phonies. I can't stand your cold–hearted, pompous ideas of right and wrong. I'd rather be anywhere else than with you tonight!

Feelings:

Response:


13. I get so embarrassed in that group. Everyone seems so together and with it. I'm afraid they would never accept me for who I am and the way I feel.

Feelings:

Response:


14. I get so uptight coming to this group every week. I am sure that someday my turn will come and I'll be so clammed up I'll never be able to say a word.

Feelings:

Response:


15. I am so afraid of letting my feelings out. If I ever let them out, I may never stop. I might go over the edge.

Feelings:

Response:


16. My dad and mom are so busy taking care of my little brother that I'm afraid to tell them about my problems. They seem insignificant compared to his problems.

Feelings:

Response:


17. Nobody really cares if we win or lose. They goof around and take nothing serious.

Feelings:

Response:


18. I am so untalented, ignorant, and ugly that no one could possibly love me.

Feelings:

Response:


19. I wish that I had never been born. If I hadn't been born, maybe my family wouldn't have had such problems. Maybe Mom and Dad would have been happy and not divorced.

Feelings:

Response:


20. I want to thank you for making this the best day of my life. You are all so special and wonderful. I love you all.

Feelings:

Response:

Listening role–play activity

You and a friend can practice effective listening on one another. Practice with these ten suggested topics.

Step 1: One partner takes a turn as speaker, the other as listener. For five minutes the speaker elaborates on one of the ten topics. The listener uses effective listening and makes appropriate responses back to the speaker.

Step 2: After the five–minute role play is completed, the speaker spends two minutes giving feedback to the listening partner on the effective listener skills used. Review Section II to help you give appropriate feedback.

Step 3: After the first practice and feedback session, switch roles until all topics have been covered. Use the material on listening in Sections I and II as a tool to make improvements in your listening and feedback skills.

Ten Practice Listening Topics

 

How I feel about:

  1. My life today.
  2. Being raised in my family of origin.
  3. All the good things that have happened to me
  4. My future.
  5. My decision to participate in a support group.
  6. My current personal problems.
  7. Learning to deal with my problems.
  8. Listening to other people's deepest concerns and feelings.
  9. Showing love to those closest to me.
  10. The fact that I influence my life, regardless of the events, with either positive or negative outcomes.