Active Listening. Learning Objectives. By the end of this module, the learner will have

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1 1 Active Listening Learning Objectives By the end of this module, the learner will have An understanding of what is meant by active listening Gained insight into your natural listening strengths and areas for improvement Reviewed techniques that you can use to listen actively Reviewed some common pitfalls to avoid This module starts with a reflection activity. Understanding My Listening Style The purpose of this exercise is to help you reflect on your natural listening style. Once you know where your natural strengths are and your areas for improvement, you have something to build on. STEP 1 As soon as possible answer the 6 questions in the quiz below. Give the first response that comes to mind, without thinking too much about it. This should take no longer than 5 minutes. STEP 2 During the following few days, pay attention to your listening style in your day-to-day conversations, bearing in mind the questions asked in the quiz. Take a few moments to reflect on conversations when you have the chance (you don t need to set time aside for this it can be done on your commute to work for example.) STEP 3 A few days later, answer the quiz again, bearing in mind your analysis of your conversations. Please be honest with yourself. You will not be asked to share the results of this quiz with anyone.

2 2 Respond to the questions below, rating your listening skills on a scale of 1 to 5, as follows: 1 = never 2 = rarely 3 = sometimes 4 = often 5 = very often I plan what I am going to say in response, before the other person has finished speaking. 1 st Answer 2 nd Answer (a few days later) I anticipate what the other person is going to say, and finish his / her sentence. When someone is telling me about something that has happened to them, I think about similar events in my own life. I find it difficult to pay attention if the subject under discussion bores me. I become irritated by the way some people speak (e.g. because of regional accents, speed, slang or grammar mistakes). If I am irritated by the way someone speaks, I focus more on the irritation than on the content of what the other person is saying. Now that you have evaluated your natural listening style twice, take a few moments to reflect on the outcome. You may wish to use the following questions as a starting point: 1. Was there a difference in your assessment of your listening style between your first and second responses? 2. Were you surprised by your observations of your listening style? 3. Did you notice any differences in your listening style when comparing conversations from your professional and personal lives?

3 3 4. Where would you like to improve your listening style? 5. What do you think will be the greatest challenges in working on improving your listening style? What is meant by "active listening"? "I'm a good listener" is a claim that we often hear, especially when someone is encouraging us to share a confidence or worry with them. But good listening skills are essential at all times, especially in the workplace. One description of what it means to listen "actively" is as follows: " I make a sincere effort to really hear what the other person is saying - and is not saying. I check my understanding by confirming, in my own words, that what I heard is the message that the other person wanted to transmit. Then I can formulate my response." This may seem simple enough, but many people find the reality more complicated. This is partly due to the fact that most people are capable of hearing and processing words at a much faster rate than others can speak. The listener may therefore adopt certain behaviours that have a negative impact on their ability to listen actively. Some of these were identified in the activity at the start of this worksheet and the mnemonic RAIDERS is a way of remembering the pitfalls to avoid: Rehearse: Listeners often mentally rehearse their response, preparing what they will say and how they will say it. This may be because the listeners wants to be seen to be quick off the mark or sharp-minded, or in a group conversation, it may be due to a concern that others will jump in with a response first. However, if we are mentally rehearsing a response, we are missing some of what is being said by the speaker. And it may be something crucial. Advise: Listeners are often keen to give advice, or express their point of view. However, it is important to consider whether the speaker is indeed seeking your advice. It may be that they simply want a sounding board or someone to listen while they formulate optional courses of action for themselves. Identify: It is not unusual to find oneself identifying with the speaker s dilemmas or experiences, and to then think back to one s own life and situation. Apart from the obvious potential pitfall of subsequently losing concentration, there is also the risk that the listener may presume that the speaker's situation is exactly like their own, and that the best course of action will also be the same.

4 4 Dream: You may have found in the listening activity at the beginning of this worksheet that you have a tendency to lose concentration if the topic of conversation is not one which is of interest to you. Evaluate: It is a natural reaction to make judgements about what we are hearing. We may be judging an individual s personality, or background. We may also be judging their decisions, and past or proposed actions. Reject: If something raises a particularly strong negative feeling in the listener, then they may reject the speaker altogether, dismissing what they are saying. Sympathise: While it may seem to be a positive approach to take, being overly sympathetic to a speaker's worries or concerns may lead the listener to focus entirely on emotions, and not enough on the facts of the speaker's message How to become a good active listener In this section we will look at three techniques: Reflecting Back Listening for messages Questioning, probing and encouraging Reflecting Back In the example of the description of active listening above, we saw that a key stage is to...check my understanding by confirming, in my own words, that what I heard is the message that the other person wanted to transmit. An effective method of doing this is by reflecting back, or paraphrasing the speaker s apparent message in your own words. An example of this may be You seem to be concerned about your upcoming job interview. When reflecting back, it is key to use your own words. If you simply repeat the speaker s words back to them, then you lose the chance to check that you have understood. Listening for messages Listening actively does not only involve listening to the actual words which are spoken. It is also requires the listener to pay attention to what is not said. This may include silences, nonverbal signals, and underlying emotional messages. However, be cautious when reflecting back to check for underlying emotional messages. It may be that the speaker has not addressed emotions in what they have said because they do not wish to talk about them.

5 5 Questioning, probing and encouraging Questioning is an important tool in active listening, as a way to thoroughly understand the message that the other person wishes to transmit, before expressing one s own point of view. Caution should be exercised when probing, or digging deeper, into what the other person has to say. A gentle way to probe can be use of phrases such as Tell me more Go on That is interesting Yes? and non-verbal utterances such as ummm, ahhh etc., or nodding (in a face to face meeting) which let the other person know that you are listening and paying attention, but avoid uncomfortably long silences. Questioning Techniques: Open versus Closed Questions You may be aware that questions can be classed as open or closed : Closed questions are those which have a limited range of responses, and so leave little room for the respondent to add their thoughts. They may or may not also be leading questions i.e. leading the respondent to give a particular answer. For example: Are you worried about anything else? Don t you think it would be a good idea to write your CV first? Open questions are those which encourage the respondent to give full, meaningful answers, sharing, where appropriate, their knowledge, opinions and emotions in detail. For example: What other concerns do you have? What is your to do list between now and our next meeting?

6 6 Reflection Activity Under what circumstances is it advisable to use open questions? When may it be preferable to use closed questions? A common rule of thumb is that it is more effective to ask open questions, as they encourage the respondent to think more widely around the topic. However, there are times when closed questions are appropriate for example when asking for, or clarifying facts. However, it is still necessary to exercise caution, as what may be seen as fact-seeking may actually be limiting the respondent s opportunity to reflect. For example: Do you know anyone who already does a similar job, and who you could talk to, in order to find out more about what it involves? It is easy for the respondent to simply answer No. Whereas the phrase Let s think about who you know who does a job that is similar is much wider, and encourages the other person to reflect. If you were to help a young person such as Jess with career and life choices, you may use the following open questions and requests, amongst others: Tell me what you understand about how I will be able to help you. I thought we could use first names when we address each other. How do you feel about that? Tell me more about how you feel when you think about making your career choices. What is stopping you from making a decision over what to do next? Imagine that you have made a decision how will you feel? How will you feel once you have submitted this difficult job application? TURBO The mnemonic TURBO is a convenient way to remember some of the key points about active listening.

7 7 Take Notes: jotting down one or two words as the person speaks helps to stay focused on the conversation, and recall key points. However, do not attempt to take copious notes, as this can have the reverse effect of concentrating too much on accurate note-taking and not enough on the messages transmitted by the speaker. Use silence: silence can be a powerful way of encouraging a person to carry on, without giving the impression that you are just waiting for them to pause, so that you can jump in with your own thoughts. Allowing silent moments in a conversation does not always feel natural, but is a skill worth practicing. Reserve judgement: as mentioned above, we are often too quick to evaluate and judge speakers. Be interested: show interest by nodding or giving verbal encouragement at appropriate moments. Omit distractions: telephones beeping, s arriving, and a range of other distractions compete for our attention. Create the best environment for active listening, by making a conscious decision not to allow interference with our concentration. Concluding Reflection Points Take a few moments to reflect on what you have taken away from this worksheet. When answering the questions below, think about the different aspects of your life (work, family, hobbies etc.) and how you could use different learning points in each of these contexts. 1. What were the key learning points for me? 2. What learning points will I aim to use within the next week? 3. What learning points will I aim to use within the next month? 4. What learning points will I aim to use within the next 3 months? 5. What action steps will I take to use these learning points? See also: Giving Effective Feedback Understanding Motivation Coaching Techniques Understanding the Johari Window

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