Successful listening requires a number of simultaneous activities: paraphrasing, clarifying, feedback, empathizing, being open, and being aware.
Paraphrasing is essential because it keeps you busy trying to understand what the other person means. You can paraphrase by using such lead-ins as "What I hear you saying is...In other words...Let me understand what was going on for you was...Do you mean...?" Paraphrase every time someone says something important to you.
At times, you often have to ask for more information and background to get a fuller picture. Constantly check your understanding of what you hear, not what you want to hear. Ask clarifying or continuing questions to demonstrate to your advisees that you are involved in what they're saying.
To complete active listening you need to share, in a nonjudgmental way, what you thought, felt, or sensed. You need not agree with all of your advisees decisions. Your role is to help them make realistic decisions. If you have a reason to believe that a student will fail or is making a poor choice, you should honestly discuss this perception with them.
Try to put yourself in the student's place as if you were him or her but without loosing the "as if" condition.
Observe congruence. Most communications have both an intellectual and emotional component. Does the student's tone of voice, emphasis, facial expression, and posture fit with the content of his or her communication? If body, face, voice, and words fail to fit, your job as a listener is to clarify and give feedback about the discrepancy. Appreciate the emotion, e.g. voice intonation and body language, behind your advisee's words.
A student coming to you wants you to listen and will look for clues to prove that you are. A number of verbal and nonverbal behaviors can help you listen and can help you communicate your total attention.
- You cannot listen while talking. Relax and try not to give the impression that you want to jump in and talk.
- Maintain good eye contact.
- Lean slightly forward to indicate your involvement; use affirmative head nods.
- Reinforce the speaker by nodding or responding with "uh-huh" or "I see."
- Do not interrupt; give the person time to finish what he or she has to say.
- Move away from distractions; avoid bored or nervous gestures.
- Take notes. Do not trust your memory where certain facts and data are important.
Adapted from "Advising Students Who Have Personal Problems: Active Listening Skills," Glassboro State College, as found in Crockett, D.S. (Ed.). Advising Skills, Techniques, and Resources. Iowa City, Iowa: The American College Testing Program, 1986. pp 253-254.
Effective Communication Skills Retrieved August 17, 2006 from Penn State Center for Excellence.