Professional Communications ZAA 105

Week 4 - The Skills of Active Listening and Paraphrasing

Lets begin this week with a look at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, USA.

This is a business that was about to fail and their innovation in turning their business around is a story that did become world famous. I’d like you to have a think about this story and what its relationship is to active listening. To follow these readings, we’ll begin to give you the information on HOW you can start to develop these skills in a very practical way.

The next reading is an extension on the Pike Place example and introduces the two key points of Active Listening that we are working with in this module.

By developing your abilities to use all three components of active listening - listening orientation, reflective technique, and questioning skills - you will be able to maximize the effectiveness and productivity of the individuals in your team. Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. However, active listening can be difficult to master and will, therefore, take time and patience. Used appropriately, active listening may provide three very positive results:

Lastly, I'd like you to have a look at this article, discussing the importance of active listening skills in the workplace.

Ok, agreed it is an essential skill to develop? Lets go.

We will be addressing our active listening in two (2) ways: Listener orientation and Reflective technique.

This short clip by Eleanor Shakiba is a good overview of the two points as mentioned above, but particularly around Listening Orientation. This skill encourages you to be more aware of how open to the conversation is the person you are speaking to. It also incorporates some of the important points on matching both our body language and verbal message.

While you are watching the clip, take some notes. Draw a line down the middle of the page, and at the top of the page on one side, write 'Active Listening' and on the top of the other 'Not ready to listen'. As you watch the clip, write down the contrasting behaviours as they are mentioned.

Why don't others listen? | 6:27 mins

  1. Now that your listening and communication skills are developing - can you identify yourself in any of these behaviors? If so, what is something you could be more aware of in the coming week?
  2. What listening skill would you like to further develop and how do you think that would help you manage interactions different into the future?
  3. Is there anyone that you need to communicate with regularly that you relate to some of the behaviors in this clip?

Now lets start to look at Active Listening in a little more detail. Following is the information of the two (2) main aspects of Active Listening that we are covering in this course. Read the information provided, take notes and answer the questions at the end of each section.

Listener Orientation

Successful active listening begins with you making a conscious effort to approach the conversation with a positive attitude to the other person and to the encounter itself. This means that the central question for you is not 'What can I do for this person?' or even 'How do I see this person?" but rather 'How does this person see themselves and their situation?"

Many psychological papers have indicated that for best results, listener orientation should be characterized by undivided attention, empathy, respect, acceptance, congruence.

Undivided Attention

This should be self-explanatory: 100 percent of you attention is on the speaker. You need to make sure that any important communication takes place in an environment free of distractions and where you won't be disturbed. You should also switch your mobile phone to silent and avoid looking at it, or at your computer screen, or anything other than the person you are listening to.


Empathy begins with awareness of another person's feelings and develops naturally out of active listening. Obviously, it would be easier to empathize if the other party simply told you how they felt. However, unless you are dealing with someone who is unusually candid you will need to interpret nonverbal cues. You also need to pay attention to the precise language that they are using. You can show empathy by acknowledging their emotions, whether these are positive or negative. For example: 'I can understand why you feel that way.' The ability to empathize is critical, as it helps you to 'tune in' to the things that are important to the speaker. Empathy is surprisingly difficult to achieve because we all have a strong tendency to advise, tell, agree, or disagree from our own point of view.


This means thinking well of every person, rather than judging them according to a preconceived standard of personal worth. It does not necessarily mean agreeing with them, but it does mean that you should be respectful on a personal level, rather than dismissive or condescending.


Acceptance, in this context, is very close to the concept of respect, and again requires a non-judgmental approach. It means that you should avoid expressing agreement or disagreement with what the other person says. It is simply accepted as the current state of play and this will serve as a starting point for later discussion. This attitude encourages the speaker to be less defensive and to say things that they might otherwise keep hidden.


This refers to openness, frankness, and genuineness on your part as the listener. This can be a problem if you have strong negative feelings about what you are hearing. For example: If you are annoyed with someone it can be very difficult to show empathy, respect, or acceptance. In this case your choice would be either to admit to feeling annoyed or to postpone the conversation until you have calmed down.

The first course of action may be the better one because honesty on your part will usually lead to the speaker opening up as well, rather than both of you communicating from behind a mask of false affability.

The principle of congruence is an important one because people are very good at reading each other's body language and para-verbal signals. This means that if what you say is at odds with what you feel then the other party will notice this and believe either that you are lying or confused.

Generally speaking, these conflicting meanings leave the recipient suspicious or hostile, without quite knowing why.

Reference: free management ebooks


  1. Define what Listener Orientation is in your own words
  2. name two things you could do as a listener to ensure the person speaking has your Undivided Attention.
  3. Why is Empathy important for a listener? How can you show empathy to the person who is speaking?
  4. Describe why Respect and Acceptance are important as an active listener.
  5. Explain what Congruence is and why it is important. As the listener, if you are feeling negative about what the speaker is saying, suggest two (2) options of actions you could take to help.
  6. Now, take a minute to consider these new ideas and how they might relate to you in your own work or personal life. Write down (3) ideas you have from this new information and how you could apply to make an important communication more successful.

Reflective Statements

Lets begin with developing our understanding of this topic by looking at some video content to begin with. Remember- this might feel a bit awkward but stay with it - and hopefully you can already see some of the benefits in your developing communication skills.

Lets start a bit light and funny - these are old clips but demonstrate the technique exactly!

Active listening | 4:02 mins

Everybody loves Raymond uses Active Listening | 2:58 mins

Now, the next clip has some excellent content on the actual HOW and the different types of reflective statements. As you watch the following clip, please make notes and record the three (3) different types of statements you can respond to the speaker with.

How to reflective statements | 2:26 mins

The only way to get better at this is to practice! Over the course of the next week, I would like you to have three (3) conversations where you practice using reflective statements. I would like at least one (1) of these situations to be a conversation that is over five minutes long - the idea is to really engage in active listening and try out your new skills. These situations might arise naturally and you are able to easily transition into using practicing OR it might be a situation that you design, where you sit down with a friend or trusted colleague to practice. Whichever you choose, I would like you to:

a) Use all three (3) of the reflective techniques over the conversations.

b) Make some notes on your experience with this - how does it feel? Can you see a change in your skills? Have there been any unexpected or different experiences with others as a result of a change in your approach?

To conclude this section on active listening, the most important skill that you can cultivate is one of self-awareness. Self-awareness will help you develop your communication skills.

Something fun to finish with.

Teaching Dwight active listening | 1:19 mins


Created with images by freephotocc - "cup of coffee laptop office" • ky_olsen - "Listen" • pellesten - "Listening" • Alexas_Fotos - "phone old year built 1955" • Royal Sapien - "Communication Room"

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