Friday, December 18, 2009

Active Listening - Part I of III

Active Listening
Think back to those few friends, mentors, counselors, or
family members who have had the biggest impact on you. How would
you characterize the communication between you? Was it helpful,
meaningful, telepathic, or inspirational?

In one-to-one relationships with someone who knows us well, we
are often in such complete synchronization that communication flows
between us almost without words. Or so we feel. If this is the
case, is it because we excel at expressing ourselves, or because we
are masters of listening? Naturally, both are important, but, to
turn a phrase, talk is cheap and listening is rare.

Chances are that those who influence us most are powerful lis-
teners. Whether instinctively or through practice, they have
developed the skill of empathy.

A University of Maine researcher, Dr. Marisue Pickering, iden-
tifies four characteristics of empathetic listeners:

l. Desire to be other-directed, rather than to project one's own
feelings and ideas onto the other.

2. Desire to be non-defensive, rather than to protect the self.
When the self is being protected, it is difficult to focus on
another person.

3. Desire to imagine the roles, perspectives, or experiences of the
other, rather than assuming they are the same as one's own.

4. Desire to listen as a receiver, not as a critic, and desire to
understand the other person rather than to achieve either agreement
from or change in that person.

Further, she identifies ten discrete skills for empathetic
listening, shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Skills Associated with Empathy

1. Attending, acknowledging 1. Providing verbal or non-
verbal awareness of the
other, ie, eye contact

2. Restating, paraphrasing 2. Responding to person's
basic verbal message

3. Reflecting 3. Reflecting feelings,
experiences, or content
that has been heard or
perceived through cues

4. Interpreting 4. Offering a tentative
interpretation about the
other's feelings, desires,
or meanings

5. Summarizing, synthesizing 5. Bringing together in some
way feelings and
experiences; providing
a focus

6. Probing 6. Questioning in a supportive
way that requests more
information or that
attempts to clear up

7. Giving feedback 7. Sharing perceptions of the
other's ideas or feelings;
disclosing relevant
personal information

8. Supporting 8. Showing warmth and caring in
one's own individual way

9. Checking perceptions 9. Finding out if interpre-
tations and perceptions
are valid and accurate

10. Being quiet 10. Giving the other time to
think as well as to talk

SOURCE: Pickering, Marisue, "Communication" in EXPLORATIONS, A
Journal of Research of the University of Maine, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall
1986, pp 16-19.

These skills, like those of self-expression, can be learned,
practiced, and mastered. Our society places much more attention on
the spoken side of the communication equation, but if you think
about who influences you, are they good talkers or good listeners?

As we come to understand ourselves and our relationships with
others better, we rediscover that "communication is not just saying
words; it is creating true understanding." Active listening is an
important skill in that process.

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