Listening Skills Activities
When we think of communication skills activities and of communication in general, our minds are often naturally drawn to the aspect of it that has to do with putting forward a message. Most of us yearn to be heard and understood by those around us. And a lot is made of the importance of being a good public speaker or writer.
So it is no surprise that we initially think of the speaking or writing aspects of communication when we hear that word.
But communication is actually a two-way activity and, in order to truly be a good communicator, you also have to be able to listen well. In fact, listening is one of the most generally underappreciated vital life skills. While it is certainly powerful to know what to say and how to say it, that isn’t really possible to do without first listening well enough to understand your audience, their values and how they process information.
As a wise man once said, you learn a lot more when you’re listening to someone else talk than when you are talking yourself. The chances of hearing something new from another person are a lot higher than they are of hearing something new come out of your own mouth. Some have jokingly proclaimed that this is why we have two ears, but only one mouth.
Still, listening is something that many people struggle with. Even when they manage to stop talking for a bit, they spend that time busily planning their next response rather than really paying attention to others. Habits like this can be hard to break. That is why improving listening skills takes practice in the form of interpersonal communication skills activities.
Five Basic Listening Skills Activities
Below are five listening skills activities to help you obtain some of that practice:
Noticing and Re-Focusing the Wandering Mind
Often, when listening, the mind goes “elsewhere.” Someone may be telling you about something very meaningful to them or even something that, in some way, is important to you. Yet, as they speak, you are picturing what you plan to do this weekend or thinking about that attractive person you have feelings for. This is perfectly normal and there is no reason to feel terrible about it. It happens to all of us and it doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t care about the other person or their message. But, the fact is, it can seriously reduce our effectiveness as listeners.
People who meditate learn that, when the mind wanders, it isn’t helpful either to berate yourself over it or try to immediately force the wandering to stop forever. Neither of those methods work. The solution, they discover, is to simply consciously and calmly re-focus the mind over and over, whenever necessary. In meditation, the focus is often repeatedly returned to something like one’s own breath. In communication skills activities revolving around listening, the focus would repeatedly be returned, of course, to the face, eyes, hand gestures and voice of the person to whom we are listening.
When you first engage in this exercise, you may have to frequently and deliberately refocus your wandering mind, perhaps even a couple times a minute. But, over time, your mind will get better at unconsciously and habitually paying attention for longer periods and you’ll notice improved focus as a listener emerging.
The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti often spoke of the wisdom involved in observing without judging. This idea applies to communication skills activities aimed at becoming a good listener, as well. In the next few conversations you have, pay attention to how often you start to very quickly judge what someone is saying. Practice telling that part of you to slow down and be patient so you can hear more of what they say or ask them questions about it before forming a more solid opinion. Remind yourself that there will be plenty of time for judgment so there is no hurry. This will buy you more time to focus on listening as non-judgmentally as possible to ensure that when you do make any assessment, it is as accurate as it can be.
Paraphrasing means repeating back to someone what they said, but doing so in your own words. This is a very useful skill for a listener for a few reasons:
- Knowing that you are going to paraphrase forces you to pay close attention to what someone is saying.
- Putting their thoughts into your own words helps you to really process the meanning of what they said.
- And then actually communicating your paraphrased version to the speaker gives them a chance to affirm that you correctly understood what they meant or to correct any misunderstandings.
If, after paraphrasing, you are frequently being corrected, you can then think about the patterns involved in how you misunderstand, which may point to where you can work on improving your listening for the future.
Drawing Out Feelings and Needs
When someone is communicating with you, there is often some feeling involved and some need of theirs that they are either demonstrating or explicitly conveying. When you improve at the previously mentioned communication skills activities, a good next step is to learn to not only focus and paraphrase generally, but to specifically try to zero in on and attempt to reflect back to the speaker your interpretation of the feelings and needs relating with what they are saying.
Noticing Preferred Modalities
Most people tend to prefer thinking either visually, auditorily or kinesthetically. And they may give away their preference in the types of words that they use most often.
Visual thinkers may say:
- “It looks like things are going to go well.”
- “Hey, picture that!”
Auditory thinkers may say:
- “I hear John is going on vacation.”
- “What does it sound like Jane is upset about?”
Kinesthetic thinkers may say:
- “I just have a bad feeling about this.”
- “Your letter really touched me.”
Pay close attention and see if you can pick up on enough cues to determine which style the person speaking with you prefers. If you can do so, you can then use similar words in response to create rapport, which is one of the benefits that effective communication skills bring.
In the future, we may share some communication skills games for improving listening. But, for now, incorporating these five communication skills activities focused on the listening side of things can really enhance your overall abilities as a communicator.