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|Aspects of Listening
Republished with permission from the Whitman College Peer Listener Handbook
Note: The handbook is an excellent resource, especially when listening in person,
however it does not perfectly mesh with LiveWire's "Peer Answers" philosophy.
- Physical attending or the physical aspects of listening means doing some things and not doing others to show that you are involved with, and available to, the other.
- Facing the other squarely not turning to the side.
- Maintaining good eye contact -- look directly at the other. This does not mean staring down the other, rather, communicating through eye use in a warm way that you are genuinely interested and involved.
- Be aware of the distance from the other. Some experimentation may be necessary determine the optimum distance.
- Try to have an "open" posture. Crossed arms and legs might make the other feel you are not really approachable or maybe that you do not want to get involved. Be aware of what your gestures are saying to the other.
- Be aware of the environment. It may be too light or too dark, conducive to getting the other to relax or not. A radio or stereo may be distracting Attempts should be made to minimize outside disturbances or interruptions. Having a desk or other objects between you and the other may give the impression of not being fully available or approachable.
- Leaning or moving toward the other, at least at appropriate times may indicate to the other your presence, warmth, interest, and willingness to be there.
- Try to be relatively relaxed and comfortable yourself while still being alert and attempt to make the other comfortable also.
- Monitoring and perceiving what the other is verbally saying.
- As the conversation progresses, try to remember in detail what the other has said. Track exact content in your mind.
- Look for common themes. Often the other will make the same points in different ways.
- Pay attention to unusual words or words that are repeated as they may be significant. Some research has shown that what is said immediately after the word can be very important. Contradictions, confusion, and anxiety may be found in the phrase that follows.
- Non-Verbal perception:
- The way, manner, or style in which the voice and words are used can be crucial. You should be alert to the tone of voice, loudness, pitch, inflection, spacing of words stumbling over words, emphasized words, and pauses.
- Facial and bodily movements can be extremely communicative particularly of the emotions and feelings of the other.
- Non-verbal cues obviously can confirm, emphasize, or modify what is said in the verbal message or sometimes they can contradict the verbal content and convey the true message. A verbal "yes" may really be "no," as reflected by facial expression, tone of voice, etc.
- The Importance of non-verbal behavior is illustrated by Mehaorianís findings in 1971. He found that in an inconsistent message delivered, the receiver tended to define its meaning according to the following percentages: verbal 7%, way and manner of verbal delivery 38%, and facial 55%. In other words, if facial behavior contradicts verbal behavior, the facial expression will dominate the impact of the total message, with the actual verbal content having the least effect of the three categories studied.
- Stance for effective helping.
- You should be alert for why you are there. What is the reason for listening? Sometimes the real reason is not apparent until the conversation has been going for several minutes.
- You need to concentrate and focus as much as possible on all verbal and non-verbal cues the other is giving. This involves resisting distractions both external and in your own head, and focusing on the other -- a difficult task!
- Try to be non-judgmental about what the other is saying, at least initially. It is difficult to really listen to the other while putting our own values on everything being said.
- Be aware of the uses of pauses and silence. Practice waiting, as sometimes your comments may cut off something important that the other may be getting ready to say. Conscious practice of waiting will develop a sense of when pauses are most productive.
- You should encourage the other to talk about feelings and behavior with minimal words and comments yourself. Sometimes a gesture, nod, or one word comment are most effective. This can also help the other feel that you are appropriate, not mechanical or phony.
- It is essential to communicate verbally and non-verbally to the other that you are interested and listening. The other may need clear signals or feedback from you.
- Not to be neglected in the listening/helping relationship is the need to monitor and listen to yourself as well. Self-listening enables you to deal in the immediate moment to follow how you are affecting the other and perhaps why.
- Listening is a pre-requisite to any helping, but also pervades the whole helping process and relationship.
- Listening is important in any job that requires communication.
- Good listening will establish yourself as someone your peers will want to talk to about a variety of things. (i.e. personal, academic concerns, etc.)
- Often good listening provides the speaker the opportunity, to talk things out, to cathart, and that can be very helpful in itself and may be all that a person needs to solve his/her problem.
- Listening is an art. It takes serious concentration and practice to develop the ability to do it well.
- CAUTION: In spite of their potential importance, be sure not to overemphasize the meaning of body-language or non-verbal behavior. Giving exaggerated attention to non-verbal behavior can be as deficient as not monitoring it at all.
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