Skill Builder: Active Listening

“Active listening” describes a set of techniques that helps listeners learn more information and helps our conversation partners feel heard and understood. Active listening techniques are a great way to address the early stages of a conflict and ensure people are working towards a shared outcome.

Types of statements that promote active listening:

  • Clarifying: to help you understand what was said, to get more information
    • “When did this happen?”
    • “What was everyone else doing while this was happening?”
    • “I heard you say you get defensive. What does that look like for you? Can you tell me more about what that looks like for you?”
  • Restating: to show you’re listening, to check your meaning and interpretation
    • “So it sounds like you would like others to trust you more, is that right?”
    • “So, what I’m hearing is that you’re frustrated with how this event was promoted. Is that right?”
  • Reflecting: to show you understand how the person feels, help them understand their feelings
    • “You seem really upset by that.”
    • “You seem disappointed by that response.”
      Note: Reflecting can be risky because you’re guessing (based on the conversation) how the other person may be feeling. You take the risk of your statement being conveyed  as passive-aggressive, but reflecting can also help the person feel heard or help them to get a clearer understanding of how they feel. Be mindful of using an appropriate, empathetic tone, and be prepared to let it go and  move on if the other person isn’t interested in explaining further.
  • Summarizing: to review progress, pull together important ideas; the difference between summarizing and restating is that restating is essentially repeating back to the other person a single specific sentence or thought whereas summarizing is taking all of the ideas/thoughts/feelings someone has conveyed over a portion of the conversation and condensing it into a summary
    • “These seem to be the key issues you’ve expressed…”
  • Validating: acknowledge the worthiness of the other person
    • “I appreciate your willingness to resolve this.”
  • Reframing: to take concerns expressed in narrow or divisive terms and restate them in open and inclusive terms
    • “Is it fair to say your main interest is to get this event endorsed?”
  • Encouraging: used to convey interest and encourage the other person to keep talking
    • “Please tell me more.”

Please refer to our article on open-ended questions for more examples of how to effectively engage with each other!

Roadblocks to communication:

Here are examples of styles of communication that do NOT promote understanding and resolution.

  • Providing unsolicited solutions
    • “Why don’t you try….?
    • “You should think about…”
  • Analyzing
    • “It’s seems like you haven’t really been able to understand the issues. I bet you’d change your perspective if you read these articles.”
  • Lecturing
    • “You know that’s just a tool of capitalists, don’t you?”
  • Interrogating
    • “What were you doing there? Who else was there? How long did you stay?”
  • Provoking rebuttal
    • “Mr. X just told me that you submitted that form to deliberately derail this project. What do you have to say to that?”
  • Asking yes or no questions
    • “Are you upset by that suggestion?”
    • “Do you like that suggestion?”
  • Judging
    • “That wasn’t the right way to deal with this. Clearly you should have talked with other organizers first. This was an unfortunate mistake.”
    • “What were you thinking?”
    • “Why did you do that?”

We encourage everyone to practice using active listening techniques with one another and please remember the Conflict Resolution committee is available if you need support!

[Please note: This information is largely drawn from resources provided by Community Boards. To learn more about Community Boards check out their website.]