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Trainer’s tip: Listening exercises

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LIGHTBULBSinead Walker recently asked for information on complex exercises for listening skills sessions. Several trainers shared their thoughts...









Graham O'Connell suggests the following scenario:

You could read out a witness statement (from a realistic but fictitious crime). Read it as the witness, not as a police officer. At the end ask them who tuned into facts (remembering the details), who tuned into feelings (picking up the distress, anxiety, anger etc.) and who tuned into intent (what was unsaid, motives, what is not the full truth, etc.).

Many of us have a prefered 'frequency' that we listen on - but sometimes we are listening to Radio 1 when they are broadcasting the most important message on Radio 4. Listening is not just about active listening skills and recall, it is also about listening holistically to the whole message.

You might ask the group to get into pairs to discuss what they would say to or ask this person if they were interviewing them immediately after the crime (and then point out whether this is a fact, feeling or intent comment or question).

In the workplace sometimes we need to check out factual details, sometimes empathise, sometimes work out whether something might be being held back. This requires a mix of emotional intelligence, cognitive reasoning and... skillful listening.

But just make sure you gear it to those learning needs that will help them perform better in their role/context rather than getting hung up on the exercise itself.

For skills practice, you can get them working in threes (rotating the roles of speaker, listener, observer/feedback giver). The speaker talks about a dilemma they have faced in the past. The listener has to actively listen. The observer has to look for indicators that the listener is on the same frequency as the speaker and feed back on this at the end. Of course, in doing this, the observer is also practicing their (passive) listening skills.

Sheridan Webb proposes this simple but effective exercise:

Ask delegates to work in pairs to write down their journey to work in a very detailed way - e.g. 'I get in my car and turn right out of the drive. At the end of the street, I turn left and take the second right to join the main road.'

Person A should then read their journey to person B. Person B should stop person A when they think they have heard as much as they can accurately repeat back – word for word. They should then say what they have heard. Person A should check whether this is accurate. If it is, they should carry on with the next stage of the journey. If it is not correct, they should repeat that part of the journey again until person B can recite it word perfectly. Continue this way until the journey is ended. Then swap over.

The key learning points are that there are lots of distractions to effective listening, that we have a very short attention span, and we tend to put things into our own words (which can alter the meaning).


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Listening skills


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