5.4

ACTIVE AND REFLECTIVE LISTENING

Resolving conflict involves not only having the vocabulary and the skills to effectively communicate one’s emotions, it also requires that someone is listening to those words and interpreting them in accurate ways. Communication, especially when it comes to conflict resolution is a two way street involving both speaking and listening.

Educational systems certainly spend a lot of time teaching learners how to speak – how to stand at a podium or walk around the stage, how to pronounce your words and pace your sentences, how to move your hands and body when making certain points, how to deliver a convincing argument, rebut counter-arguments and win a debate – all of which are important skills in many facets of life.  However, how much time is actually spent teaching learners how to listen? Its sometimes assumed that listening is a skill that everyone possesses and consciously develops. This could not be further from the truth.

Just as there are methods and techniques to make us more effective speakers, so to exist methods and techniques that can make us more effective listeners.  And when we are concerned with resolving conflict, staying in tune with the emotions and feelings of those with whom we are working, and creating a peaceable learning environment, listening skills are paramount.

Read this short piece, Reflective Listening, by Neil Katz and Kevin McNulty. In it they outline two kinds of listening skills – attending skills and reflecting skills.

“Reflective listening is useful in a variety of situations. You can use listening to help when another person is experiencing a difficulty or problem. Also, the communication skills of problem solving, assertion, conflict management, and negotiation all require the extensive listening. In social situations listening can create a climate of warmth between people. Listening is also important for handling resistance or anger in others. It is needed to settle disputes. Leading group discussions/conversations requires effective listening as well. Directions can be clarified by listening. In general, reflective listening is useful in conducting any difficult conversation with another.” (Katz & McNulty, 1)

Reflection Question: Do you find yourself particularly adept or strong in practicing any of the specific attending and/or reflecting listening skills? If so, how have you been able to develop and practice those skills?  If not, what specific kinds of attending or reflecting skills do you think you could improve?

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23 thoughts on “5.4

  1. I don’t think I am a good listener. I think part of the reasons is I am too self-centered. I tried to make others to hear me and feel the feeling I have, but I ignored others. Just like kids, who want attention. I found I have the same problem. However, as I realized it, I am trying to improve myself. I tried to be more patient with my students. By listening to them, I found the conflict is easier to solve. Students need us to hear their voice just like when we are frustrated, we need others to hear us. I also realized if we are a good listener, we can get our work done more efficient, instead of asking others’ help.

  2. I would like to believe that I am particularly adept in practicing the attending skills of contact and gestures as well as the reflecting skill of acknowledging responses. My graduate paper in school media librarianship was on the implications of nonverbal communications on the school environment. The reporting of research on gazing/eye contact and gestures comprised two section of that paper. In the school library, I employ these skills to cultivate relationship with students and consult their recreational reading and information resource needs.

  3. I do need to improve my listening skills. When my feelings are hurt I take awhile to process what others say, let alone do a good job of attending to their emotions and reflecting on their words.

    Once I have a good amount of distance from a person’s conflict, I am in a much better position to listen and attend. I think my attending skills are probably just fine, I maintain eye contact and am generally empathic in my body language. Partially I think this is because I really admire the good-listeners in my life and I aspire to be a little more like them — I emulate their listening skills, and what I have always interpreted as deep concern/care.

  4. I find that I can always be a better listener. I feel that I need to be better at reflective listening. When it comes to specific aspects of reflective listening I believe I do a good enough job of understanding of where the other person is coming from. I believe that my difficulties in conflicts do not stem from a lack of listening. I find though that in conflicts listening is not the problem or the breakdown for me. The breakdown occurs when I try to transition from listening to talking in a conflict. I need to work on producing more productive thoughts and ideas in a conflict.

  5. I think I’m adept to practicing the reflective listening skill. I am a great listener I will listen very thoroughly to the speaker. I will wait until the speaker is finished and then reply or give my comment to what is being said. But, I can see myself using some of the attending skills such as direct eye contact. I love to give direct eye contact with an individual. In the classroom setting I will make eye contact. Body gesture has been often used to show the speaker that I’m actively listening for example my shoulders may lift and a nod maybe given. However, I see I really could work on some of the reflective skills. If we were completing fractions only two of the five skills would have been mastered. I think I need to work on summarizing information after it has been stated, instead of remembering a limited amount of information. I am going to practice implementing more of the skills as I attentively listen to others.

  6. Professionally I feel I am a reflective listener. My co worker always tells me I am a good listener. I know I can’t be over judge mental and that I have this babies lives in my hands and I have to listen to make sure what I tell them will get them through another day.
    Personally my listening skills are a little suspect. I know, that’s weird but its true. I am trying to transfer that over, but it is hard for some reason.

  7. This is Courtney by the way. Because I am loggin in from the library today I had to login through facebook which explains the name difference. Sorry all.

    I am a far better listener in my professional life than in my personal life. In that space my attending skills are great I am always giving eye contact and gesturing and quietly taking it all in because it is my hope to model what good listening looks like for my students. In my personal life however, I am sometimes guilty of trying to multi-task and that means that my attending skills become secondary to some other task. This I think is a problem that I am aware of but dont give as much attention to correcting as I should because I tend to take for granted that those who know me best innately know that I am interested in and concerned about what they have to say. (pressuming this is not a good habit I know)

    Where reflectiveness is concerned I think I am a work in progress. I do give acknowledging responses and reflect back content and feeling, and I even summarize most often. The problem for me is that I frequently deliever high-risk responses that are evaluative. While this is ususally well meaning, I recognize it could be misinterpreted and now that I am aware I will make an effort to respond in other ways. I think this is a result of my over all tendency towards over thinking which is something I am working on as well.

  8. I think I am good at some of the attending listening skills, such as contact and gestures. I make natural eye contact with the person speaking and use appropriate gestures to respond to what’s being said. I think these skills have been naturally developed over time, during classes, seminars, interactions with friends and family, etc.

    However, overall I do not consider myself a good communicator or listener. After reading the article, I realize that I have many deficits in reflective listening. I use a lot of the high-risk responses, such as evaluating, judging, solving, and withdrawing, instead of listening to someone talking and restating the important content/feelings the speaker is communicating. This has caused many problems in my classroom and personal life. I would like to work on using “door openers” to begin reflective conversations and saying appropriate things when reflecting content, feelings, and meaning. It’s important that I make a conscious effort to apply and practice these skills in my life because good communication and listening skills are essential for building strong relationships and I will not be able to preach to my students what I do not practice in my own life.

  9. I can be good attendant and reflective listener but it’s not always the case. I guess I would say that when a situation seems serious, then I slow down and can be a really good listener. In both my immediate and extended family, people had the habit of overlapping conversation and interrupting each other. I’ve tried to break that habit but sometimes slip into it.

    When I was a journalist, I had to listen to people but I also wanted to make sure that I got certain questions into the interview so sometimes that steered me away from only listening. But it was generally a good practice to let someone tell his or her story and not be pushy about questions. I got more original and deeper thoughts from the person being interviewed if I listened.

    Once when a student blew up at me in class, I reverted to reflective listening and it helped to diffuse the situation. “You are really mad,” I said. “I can see you are really angry.” I didn’t raise my tone of voice to match his and it helped to de-escalate the situation.

    In social situations, I’m good a drawing people out, but I also like to tell my little stories and anecdotes. So I consciously try to monitor myself. Am I doing too much talking?

  10. I think I am a good attendant and reflective listener. Its so many people that impact my listening skills. My god father is a homicide police detective and always call himself a trained listener. He always informed my to just listen, when people talk just listen. I’m very attentive and observant. My mom favorite phrase is “take the cotton out your ear and stick in your mouth. Appropriate body language , using non verbal cues, and knowing when to be quite is very important. I think I’ve mastered those skill. My colleagues think that I a good listener also. I have be selected to sit on many interviews to help build up our education community.

  11. For some reason that I cannot explain, I seem to always remember being adept at what the authors call reflective listening. Perhaps it was because I was a shy kid eager to please others, but I always tried to listen to others before I spoke, and when I did speak, acknowledging what they had said.

    This skill has come in handy in teaching, where I always try to respond to student questions and points in discussions by summarizing before responding. I have tried to teach student to show one another respect through active listening, but the idea of teaching a structured way to take-in non-verbal cues is something I would definitely welcome the opportunity to teach my students.

  12. Maria–Based on the happenings in my life this past week I can confidently say that I think I am a fairly good reflective listener. I have had to interview 35 students about alternative breaks, grassroots social change and activism all three of which are complex and loaded topics that cannot be answered easily in an interview. Over the course of these interviews I have had to modify questions, re-phrase them based on the confusion and body language I sense from their responses. I also found myself clarifying things from their interest profile/online application to let them know that we had read the online portion of their applications and were impressed by their past experiences.

  13. I, like Leah, spent time in some psychology courses as an undergrad learning about listening skills; again, when I worked for a counseling agency, I participated in multiple trainings on attentive and reflective skills. Because I’ve now been working with children for 9 years, I feel as though I’ve gotten hours and hours of practice on these skills,

    To me, I feel like I’m stronger with my attentive listening. I find that I do typically genuinely care about what the other person is saying to me and the things like eye contact and interested silence come naturally. I will agree with what’s been said about cultural differences, as I definitely made some Guineans more uncomfortable than put at ease when I first started as a Peace Corps Volunteer and had to break my habit of really making eye contact.

    I do find that I struggle more with reflective listening. I feel as though after all my training, I find myself put off by phrases like “I hear you saying….” or “It sounds like…” because to me I sound like I was just at a training on listening. I always hope that I convey my genuine interest without using those sentence starters.

  14. It’s weird because I feel that in certain situations I am strong at attending, however, in daily life I am not. I learned by conducting interviews for films to have excellent attending skills: positive body language, knowing when to keep silent, using non-verbal cues to propel a conversation forward, etc. I find that in regular life, though, I have trouble with these skills, especially the silence. I find that I always am filling silence with some kind of reflection or advice, which shows I’m listening but also can be very annoying (at least I think that I’m being annoying). I need to remember to exercise patience, but this is usually ruined by excitement of my wanting to share some insight that came to mind.

  15. Before I answer the question, I feel its a bit necessary to push back on this concept. I read a lot of body language books and find them to be great; however, many miss the mark of cultural competency and learning how to incorporporate someone’s background into their analysis. First, different cultural backgrounds often may communicate in more abrupt manners as compared to others. The Black community is a great example of this. Moreover, often times observing one’s body language fails to take into account how someone’s verbal language may trigger someone. Last week I shared in class how my autistic friend will not see a counselor because of the ableist language she heres. Applying this example to active listening would lead some to believe that she is quiet, has a hard time opening up or may be hiding something. Yet, it was the quite opposite. Or, take for instance when someone has been sexually assaulted and someone used the phrase “we raped this.” Both of these examples would lead to a different perception of the person, but, this was due to the person speaking.

    Regardless, on the whole, I feel as though I am strong reflective listener. Listening is something I find crucial to ensuring everyone has human dignity- if I am unwilling to listen to you, I directly devalue as a person, as I don’t believe your thoughts are worthwhile. I’ve developed a lot of these skills because of my mom and growing up in the church. However, I think I could improve on creating interested silence.

  16. In previous experiences in dealing with interpersonal conflict, I felt particularly strong at creating an appropriate and supportive environment. As a Resident Assistant (RA) in undergrad I had to deal with roommate conflicts, domestic abuse, self harm/suicide attempts, and sexual violence. In many situations, creating the appropriate environment was crucial to dealing with the conflict. I was generally able utilize safe spaces in cases of direct violence or emergency situations. Regarding interpersonal conflict in non-emergency situations, I was sure to provide a neutral space for participants. Because so many roommate conflicts involve the students’ respective room or apartment, it was necessary at the beginning of facilitation to use a space that was not directly involved in the conflict.

  17. I think I am a good active listener and a good reflective listener. I have always been told by my friends that I am easy to talk to because I listen attentively and I don’t jump to conclusions. I think I got practice in this from being the youngest child in a family that thrives on conflict. I have divorced parents and a rather aggressive older brother. I have always been the “listener” in the family, and as a result, I often come up with solutions that no one else had thought about. Reflective listening comes with being of a reserved and observant nature.

  18. I think I’m particularly good at creating “interested silence” as part of my attending skill set, and in “sorting” as part of my reflective skill set. This might seem superficial, but being a member of a sorority has greatly improved both my communication and listening skills in quite profound ways. I think that before I came to college I was more reserved, less outspoken and maybe less comfortable striking up a conversation with people I wasn’t close with. But practically speaking, joining a group of 80+ women quickly develops and provides lots of time for practicing these skills. Personally, it obviously is easier to practice reflective listening when I care for the person and am interested in what they say. I know that I tend to be dismissive at times, which is an area I definitely need to improve upon. Also, I tend to use humor too often in reflecting on what others say, and find that it’s probably not an ideal way of respectfully paying attention to others.

  19. I think that in general I am a very good reflective listener, but it often depends on the situation or the person. Often I tend to ask more questions rather than give statements about how people are feeling, so rather than saying ‘you feel…’, or ‘you’re feeling…’ I tend to say ‘would you say you feel…?’ to clarify, which I think is easier for me to express that I am listening and understand what they’re feelings are but giving them a chance to agree or disagree in order to check in. I am very attentive and I think that it is obvious that I am genuinely interested in my body language and by allowing for silences or comfort as needed. Sometimes at the end of a conversation I have a tendency to reassure or divert in order to bring the conversation to a close and move on so I guess that’s something I could work on- in order to end listening with something more constructive.

  20. The Overall Performance Evaluation (OPE) process in the World Bank is an extensive process which requires both Attending and Reflective Skills. As a long time Manager of staff, I have had to develop these skills over an extended period of time. Since the staff of the World Bank are multicultural and diverse, the process is highly sensitive, and an arbitration system is in place because there are many conflicts arising from people not agreeing with the final assessment. Normally, the straightforward aspects such as Measurable Results are not disputed. People are highly education and can document pretty accurately what they have done. However, it is the assessment of behaviors on things such as Relations with Clients (typically governments), team work (feedback from colleagues), and Knowledge sharing, where the conflict arises and is highly passionate.

    In my years, I have had only one staff member who sought arbitration. This may either be a reflection of my ability to listen and have empathy with staff or that staff chose not to confront through the arbitration process – which has its own negative elements (i.e. “corridor, cafeteria, bathroom talk about a person’s career).
    I have been able to develop these skills because I have had to use them in small team to larger Units I managed. I still need to work on these as I can now see some areas where there are weaknesses. I draw on the “Dirty Dozen” in the readings and note that being “reassuring” and using “the logical argument” has severe drawbacks.

  21. Daniel Knoll – While I read through Katz and McNulty’s piece on active and reflective listening I feel as if I use a lot of their skills and suggestions in my everyday interactions with others. I’ve been told before that I’m a particularly good listener, and I think that stems from my genuine interest in what other people have to say. Because I’m interested and excited about what others have to say, I make particularly good use of body language and eye contact. I also pay close attention to the “bite size pieces” that are critical to effective reflecting. I also find that I am a “door opener” because I’m outgoing and don’t mind starting a conversation, especially engaging someone based off their body language.

    I think two areas of Katz and McNulty’s suggestions that I could definitely use some work on is “interested silence.” I almost always try and fill silence by responding with reflective information I’ve gleaned from what was just shared. However, I’m often quick to jump in with a reflection and often times people aren’t done talking before I respond. I also try and offer solutions. I like to solve problems, and I think there are certainly instances were I sidetrack communication by trying to offer my own solution. I want to practice being a more patient listener, which I think will help me utilize silence and suppress my urge to offer suggestions quickly.

  22. I was first introduced to the concept of reflective listening during an undergraduate interpersonal psychology course, and I can say without a doubt that this skill has been one of the most applicable and relevant course materials that I use in my every day life. Since learning the concept, I do my best to pay particular attention to my attending skills by keeping eye contact and making sure my gestures make the other person feel comfortable speaking. I put a lot of effort into reflecting feeling in conversation because I am not the best at recognizing feelings or expressing them, but I have found that when practicing these skills I keep myself in check and pay close attention so that I can reflect the other persons feelings. I feel that I can improve on my reflecting meaning skills by reflecting both the others feelings and content that was spoken.

    When learning these skills in my previous class and reading this piece of writing I was struck by one major difference. The paper suggests that preambles such as “What I hear you saying is..” or “It sounds like…” should be eliminated or used sparingly. My other instructor suggested that we use preambles often to test the accuracy of our statements and allow the speaker to clarify that we were accurately reflecting his/her feelings. I would be curious to hear others opinions on the use of preambles and if these should be used sparingly.

  23. I think I am a good attendant listener but the reflecting skill are still lacking. I usually just jump right past the “I hear you saying that…” part and right into “here’s what I think/feel/need…” part.

    I developed my attending skills large in part through my mother and aunt – who are fierce head nodders, body rockers, active listeners. I suppose on a subconscious level it made me feel like what I was saying was important, and now I want others to feel the same (most of the time).

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