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Listening Techniques: How to Respond

Here are the basic listening techniques to use when listening and replying to the other party’s responses. Each of the six points below can demonstrate that you’re pro-actively listening to the respondent, which in turn increases your listening effectiveness as well as encourages the other person to continue talking.

Whether you’re simply trying to be more empathetic, or you’re using these techniques to learn more through  to better understand the audience and their problems, these tips are essential elements .

  1. Repeating what you’ve heard
  2. Reflecting
  3. Summarising and paraphrasing
  4. Itemising your response
  5. Argeeing and acknowledging
  6. Expanding

Let’s examine each point more specifically.

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1. Repeating what you’ve just heard, often called Mirroring

The easiest technique, you simply repeat what they said verbatim. You might add “… and correct me if I’m wrong” after you’ve repeated it to let them know you want to hear what they’ve said exactly. If the respondent agrees what you’ve heard is correct, you continue the discussion. If not, they’ll correct your perspective, which also gives the other party a feeling of control. This ‘control’ is important because if they’re comfortable, they’ll reveal more. 

That said, be aware that repeating what someone said exactly is primarily an act of remembering what you just heard. It does not necessarily – nor convincingly – demonstrate to the other party you understood what you said.

2. Reflecting

Let’s start with a brutal truth. Accurately listening to another person is difficult on its own. Listening accurately to yourself is not only challenging, but possibly also confronting.

Similar to Repeating or Mirroring, Reflecting means replaying the person’s statement exactly … but in this case, you want the respondent to hear themselves through your words. It helps the other person develop a more thorough understanding of themselves, if not consider their words, emotions and actions. Reflecting turns our intuition into knowledge, so that the understanding of something can be more easily shared and discussed in a group.

3. Summarising and Paraphrasing

The next two techniques are similar as both demonstrate to the respondent two points:

  • Their message was heard clearly, and
  • You understand their response so well you can interpret it back to them using your own words.

They’re a shade different, in that …

  • Summarising means to provide a complete and concise overview of what the respondent said, like “In ten words or less …” Summarising also helps an inarticulate person refine their answer.

You might say: So what I heard you just say is … (add your summary) … but correct me if I’m wrong.”

  • Paraphrasing means re-stating their answer using your own words, but without altering the meaning or context of what they said. Oftentimes, paraphrasing helps shorten – and perhaps clarify – what they’ve said.

You might say: “What you’re saying is this: (repeat but answer in your own words).”

4. Itemizing your Response

This technique helps you clarify the respondent’s answer by organising and prioritising their key messages.

You might say: “Let me check my understanding. The problems you’ve outlined are (Point A), (Point B), and (Point C).” Again, not a bad thing to add “… and correct me if I’m wrong” in your own way.

5. Agreeing and Acknowledging

This technique allows you to repeat the respondent’s key points, and show you agree and want to expand your conversation, often to hypothetical or future considerations.

You might say: “I agree with you that (Point X) and (Point Y) are the right steps to do. What do you think should happen next?”

6. Expanding

This technique is like  because you not only clarify key points, but also ask for their opinion or attitude.

You might say: “You clearly believe that (Point A) and (Point B) need to happen very soon, but where and when do you think (Points X and Y) should be considered?”

And a few more bits …

Physically, use these techniques with good eye contact and an attentive posture, either standing or sitting. Minimise other things, such as put your mobile away, or move away from unnecessary noise.

Emotionally, squash your agenda (you are the least important person in every conversation), keep your opinion in check (), and stick to the topic (as in, don’t use their answer to change the conversation focus to you.)

Finally, even the best listeners have a difficult time listening well every day. That’s why it’s good to have more than one listener if possible. It’s also why you should never facilitate or lead your own brainstorm or meeting. By itself, listening is a difficult skill. But to listen well, facilitate well and write well is next to impossible – and more so, unnecessary. Assign one or more tasks to others.

For a more detail overview, you might read:

Have you any other suggestions to listen more effectively?  Please add your thoughts and comments below.

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Listening Techniques: How to Respond

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