Guidance on Active Listening Skills
Active Listening Skills
Listening is the most basic of support skills it involves: -
- Being Silent most of the time
- Using all your senses to get the total message
- Focusing on what the woman is trying to tell you
In doing support work we must be attentive, in order to pick up all that is said - and also what is left unsaid. This means noticing not just the words a woman is using or the story she is sharing with us, but also her body language, her gestures, and her silences.
It is also important that we avoid thinking ahead and composing our own response. If we can give the woman our full attention it lets her know we are interested and helps her to trust us. However, from time to time, we should be listening to our own inner voice and noting our reactions to the messages we are receiving.
This means asking some non-intrusive questions in order to try to make sure that we understand fully what we have been told. This also reassures the woman that she has been understood.
This is repeating in your own words what you have just heard her tell you.
It lets the woman know that you have understood what she has said. It also allows her to correct you if you have misunderstood.
This is making a short condensed statement, emphasising what you see as the important points of what the woman has just told you. This telling of her story from another angle sometimes helps the woman to see things she hasn't been able to see before.
This is about helping the woman to talk freely.
Minimal encourager’s are the nods, words or small noises that indicate interest. They help to keep the woman talking with little interruption from you.
I see...' 'And then..?'
Minimal encourager’s are often used by television interviewers.
Open Ended Questions
These also help to keep the interaction going. They invite further information and tend to start with What, Who, or How. (Note, however, that 'why' questions can feel rather intrusive or even intimidating.)
"How do you feel about that?
"What do you think..?"
Closed questions are questions which require a 'yes' or 'no' answer, and therefore don't encourage the woman to keep talking.
This can be used very effectively if you accept its worth and are not afraid of it. It allows the woman time to think, and may often precede a very frank revelation. This could be lost if you feel you have to fill the void with a thought of your own. Try to let the woman be the first to break the silence. However, if the silence becomes too painful or embarrassing (for the woman) try asking an open ended question based on what she was talking about just before the silence. Or ask a direct question such as ‘Is it too painful to talk about that?’
This may be required in a variety of situations.
The woman you are supporting may ask you for information which she knows she needs in order to make decisions about what she should do next. If you don’t have the answer yourself, you can ask her permission to contact another person or agency, to be able to provide her with the information she wants. One of the skills here is to know where to access local information, but you do not need to have all of the information in your head all the time. It is usually acceptable to say to the woman you will do your best to find out and get back to her.
The woman may not be aware of all the options which are open to her, and you may have to provide her with information so that she can make informed decisions about what to do next. If she has been misinformed by someone, you can supply correct information.
Sometimes women want to know more about your experience, and may ask direct questions. The best response may be a brief straightforward reply. Your response to direct personal questions is one which you need to feel comfortable with and you might consider a number of prepared responses to give. The main thing to remember is that although she may be interested to discover if you have experienced similar problems, she is not there to listen to your experiences.
We all listen, all the time. Listening is a way of taking in information about our surroundings. Normally we listen selectively. We choose how much to listen to our mother, the CD player, the bus driver. That way of listening can be termed passive hearing. Usually what is going on in our heads is that we are thinking about several other things. We tune out our mother because we assume that we have heard the same story from her many times; or the bus driver asking for the same fare day after day; and consider how common music is as a background to many of our lives.
In ACTIVE LISTENING we are operating on a deeper level of involvement. Active listening uses more than just the sense of hearing to take in information. We use our visual ability to carefully note non-verbal information and we use our minds to process the information from the close attention required in active listening.
The quality of our active listening will depend on our level of skill, experience, ability to tune out other distractions and on our relationship with the woman asking for our support.
Just as we in the role of supporter are picking up all kinds of visual, verbal and unconscious cues from the woman, so she is picking up information from us. If you are agitated or bored or worried then she will notice, so if you feel yourself loosing attention in your support work then try to work out what was going on for you at that time; did you feel tired, or was there something about the woman which was hampering your listening? Paying attention to your feelings during a support session can give you valuable information about how you work and how you react to certain situations. Taking note of this information helps your development as a volunteer support worker. Support work is a two way relationship. How you are yourself has as much impact on the helping relationship as the woman and her problem.
The likelihood is that you are already using these skills, without noticing. Identifying and naming these skills helps to increase our confidence and effectiveness as volunteer support workers.
Communicating via text message
Texting poses additional challenges for communication as tone and body language are lost and it I easy for messages to be misinterpreted. However, for the PSS volunteer texting is a particularly valuable tool for providing support as many women are simply too sick to talk and texting also allows support to be provided at times suitable for both the sufferer and the supporter.
- Make sure that your texts are clear and can not be easily misinterpreted.
- Do not use abbreviated text language when communicating with sufferers.
- Sending a text in the evening letting the woman know you have been thinking of her and that she has finished another day can be particularly valuable to the HG sufferer.
- Remember that even if you don't get many replies the sufferer will be able to read your texts and gain support and reassurance from them. This can really help to reduce the isolation they may be experiencing.
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