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PRACTICING LISTENING SKILLS

Listening is an art, a skill, a discipline, and like other skills, it needs self-control. You must understand what is involved in listening and develop the necessary techniques to be silent and listen. You must ignore your own needs and concentrate attention on the person speaking. Hearing becomes listening only when you pay attention to what is said and follow it very closely.

YOU DEMONSTRATE THAT YOU ARE LISTENING BY:
* your body language                * echoing words
* making eye contact                * nods of your head
* keeping your body open         * leaning toward the speaker

YOU LISTEN TO:
* show your support and help the other person(s) relax
* show you are accepting them, and open to them
* enable each one to speak and be heard
* be able to ask questions to clarify
* check assumptions
* clear up misperceptions
* re-state or paraphrase
* find the key points or issues
* provide the silence necessary to encourage speech
* know when to bring to closure and when to test for agreements

YOU NEED TO SHOW YOU ARE LISTENING CAREFULLY, THIS IS CALLED "ATTENDING."  ATTENDING SKILLS BUILD RAPPORT AND HELP PERSONS FEEL AT EASE. 
* Listen without interrupting.
* Pay attention.
* Use supportive body language.
* Paraphrase facts and feelings.

YOU ALSO NEED TO PRACTICE REACTING AND RESPONDING IN POSITIVE WAYS.  USING GOOD RESPONDING SKILLS HELP PERSONS UNDERSTAND THE THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT AND HELP YOU COLLECT INFORMATION ABOUT THE SITUATION. 
* Ask clarifying questions.
* Ask probing questions.
* Restate what the other person is saying catching the essence, but trying to take out the volatile phrases or
language. This is called "laundering" language and it can reduce friction.

* Summarize facts and feelings.
* Reframe issues, focus on the interests, not positions.
* Try to always use "I" language instead of "You" Not: "When you do that, you make me feel . . ." instead say, 
  "When you do that I feel . . ."

* Try to communicate directly with the other person.
* Be forward thinking, try to focus on the future.

USE "BRAINSTORMING" TO FIND AS MANY OPTIONS OR SOLUTIONS AS POSSIBLE.  THE GROUND RULES TO BRAINSTORMING ARE THAT THE PERSONS IN THE MEETING ARE JUST THROWING OUT IDEAS.  AT THIS POINT IN TIME DO NOT ELIMINATE ANY IDEAS, THAT CAN BE DONE LATER.  THE OTHER GROUND RULE IS THAT JUST BECAUSE AN IDEA IS MENTIONED IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT EITHER PERSON IS AGREEING TO THAT IDEA.  ITS JUST AN IDEA THROWN OUT FOR PURPOSES OF THE BRAININGSTORMING SESSION.  BRAINSTORMING HELPS THE PERSON TURN GOOD IDEAS INTO A PLAN OF ACTION.
LOOK FOR POINTS OF AGREEMENT THAT THE PERSONS HAVE IN COMMON, AND MENTION THEM.  

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PAYING ATTENTION AND LISTENING WITHOUT INTERRUPTION ALLOWS THE OTHER PERSON TO "LET OFF SOME STEAM."  BEFORE ANY SERIOUS RESOLUTIONS CAN OCCUR, YOU NEED TO LET THE OTHER PERSON KNOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY ARE COMING FROM AND YOU UNDERSTAND THAT THEY FEEL STRONGLY ABOU THE ISSUES YOU ARE DISCUSSING WITH THEM.  THEIR INTENSE EMOTIONS MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND AFFIRMED BEFORE SERIOUS SOLUTIONS CAN BE DISCUSSED.  YOU SHOULD ENCOURAGE THE OTHER PERSON TO "LET OFF STEAM" AND EXPLAIN THEIR CONCERNS BY USING VERBAL CUES SUCH AS:

* "I see."
* "I understand."
* "That's a good point."
* "I can see that you feel strongly about that."
* "I can understand how you could see it like that."

THESE NONVERBAL ACTIONS ALSO SHOW THE OTHER PERSON THAT YOU HEAR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
* Squarely face the other person.
* Adopt an open posture.
* Lean discreetly toward the other person, not threateningly.
* Maintain eye contact, take cues from the other person as to how much eyecontact s/he is comfortable with.
* Try to relax as you interact with the other person.

OF COURSE, FOR THE OTHER PERSON TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE LISTENING, YOU MUST MAKE A RESPONSE.  THE EFFECTIVENESS OF YOUR LISTENING WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE STYLE AND QUALITY OF YOUR RESPONSE.
 
Last Updated June 17, 1998.

Reviewed/Updated: March 21, 2004