The last column (November 26) offered tips on how to improve
communication skills. A critical component of communication skills is active listening.
People are seldom direct in verbally expressing their true feelings and concerns. To be an effective listener, it is important to create an atmosphere where the speaker feels heard and understood. It also helps build a relationship of trust and respect. Not only does active listening assist the listener to better understand but it also helps the speaker clarify his or her own thoughts and feelings. Once you have heard and understood the speaker, the speaker will also begin to listen with an open mind.
There are several approaches to active listening. This column will present four approaches.
One is encouraging. This approach conveys interest and encourages the other person to keep talking. It uses neutral statements or open ended questions that do not convey either agreement or disagreement. For example: "I see - can you tell me more?"
Another approach is clarifying. Through the use of open ended questions,
this approach helps to clarify and obtain more information, as well as to check your perception. For example: "When did this happen? I'm not sure I understand, please tell me more."
A third strategy is to restate content - basic ideas, facts or statement content - without mimicking the speaker. An example is: "So what is important to you is ..."
A fourth approach is to summarize feelings and content. The purpose is to pull ideas and feelings together and review progress. It also allows the speaker to move on to new topics or concerns.
To be effective at active listening requires energy, focus and sensitivity.
Put yourself in the shoes of the speaker and try to understand his/her feelings and perspectives. Show understanding and acceptance by nonverbal behaviour, such as tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures, eye contact and posture.
(Source: "Resolving Conflict Constructively - A Collaborative Approach to Problem Solving", Mediation Services, Saskatchewan Justice)