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FIVE WAYS OF RESPONDING

ADVISING AND EVALUATING

While this is perhaps the most common response, and the one we are all most inclined to, it may be the least helpful response. It implies a corrective, suggestive, moralizing or evaluative attitude on the part of the listener.

They can:
 
Give a sense that the listener has formed the response and is not listening to what the speaker is really saying.
Indicate a sense that the listener is superior to the speaker which can make the speaker feel inferior.
Be an effective way of not getting involved with the speaker and/or the problem.
Tell more about the listener than about the speaker's values, needs and perspectives.

They may be appropriate:

If the speaker has requested an evaluation of behavior.
 
Examples:

"You ‘re always buying foreign cars! What you need to do is buy American, and you can get the parts and service you need."

"Sounds to me like you're really caught in a bind. What you need to do is move one way or the other; to find a new relationship or make this one better."

ANALYZING AND INTERPRETING

These types of responses may indicate that you want to teach, to tell the other person what his/her problems are (or mean), or to tell the other person what he/she really feels about the matter. 

They can:
 
Make the other person defensive.
Discourage the other person from revealing more thoughts and feelings.
Imply that you think you more about the other person than he knows himself.  

May be appropriate:

If the other person can't decide what he/she feels or if he/she asks you for an interpretation.

Examples:

"Maybe the work you are doing is boring to you and so you build in more and more excuses to delay doing it."

"Have you thought about the fact that you are really angry and that is why you are so depressed? Because, you know, depression is really your anger turned against yourself."

REASSURING AND SUPPORTING

These responses often indicate that the listener wants to be sympathetic, to reassure, or to reduce the intensity of the speaker's feelings.

They can:

Deny the other person's feelings.
Tell the other person, "You should not feel this way."
Communicate a lack of nterest or understanding on the part of the listener.

May be appropriate if:

If the other person indicates a need to be supported and reassured, or if the other person has requested help in trying to change behavior.

Examples:

"Don't fret about it. Being late is not so bad."

"Your parents will understand if you explain things."

QUESTIONING AND PROBING

Asking clarifying questions may indicate to the other person that you need further information on a particular issue. Probing questions, asked too soon or too often, may tend to guide the other person along certain lines, or bring the them to a realization or conclusion desired by you, but which is ultimately not theirs.

They can:
 
Distract the other person from what he/she was saying.
Lead the other person's comments in a direction that you want to go.
Bring out information that is relevant.
"Why" questions can put the speaker on the defensive.  

May be appropriate:
 
If you really need to understand what the other person has said or meant.
When you frame the questions as open-ended questions, it encourages the other person to further develop what they want to say. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no and require more dialogue.
When the question helps the other person clarify what, when, where, how and who.

Examples:  

"Could you tell me more about how that was for you?"

"What is your favorite sport? How much time do you spend at it? Are you good at it? With whom do you play?

UNDERSTANDING AND PARAPHRASING

This response, while the most difficult of the listening skills, indicates to the other person that you want to understand their thoughts and feelings. It asks the other person if you have accurately heard their feeling and thoughts.

These responses can:
 
Assure the other person that you have heard and understood.
Help the other person clarify and understand what he/she him/herself has been saying.
Provide a calming effect.

May be appropriate:  

When you are not sure you have understood the other person completely.
When you need to clarify and summarize what you have heard.
When you want to help the other person to be clear about what he/she just said.
When you want to be sure you have heard the deeper meaning behind what the other person has indicated about feelings and content.

Examples:

"Let me see if I've got it: You are feeling depressed because your job isn't very satisfying, and you don't think school would be either, right? And you really don't know what to do next."

"You feel angry because your brothers tease you and the boys who come to see you, and you want them to stop so that you can have the boys meet your parents without you and them being embarrassed." 
 
Last Updated June 17, 1998.

Reviewed/Updated: March 21, 2004