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Content: Careful Listening

Active listening involves comparing, contrasting and connecting to what you are hearing to make sense of it.  It can be hard work so in order to do it you have to remain focused on what others are trying to say.  We’ve all been in situations where people are talking and we lose track of what is being said. Watch this clip from Peanuts (Charlie Brown).  This can be what it feels like. Sometimes it helps to write while you are listening so that you can keep your mind on the topic. 

1. Write down what is being said while it is being said so that you can follow along. 

2. Take notes so that you don’t interrupt. Come back to your notes when it is your turn to talk.  

3.  Use a double entry journal to help you take your notesOne side for facts the other side for feelings.   

                   LINK to DOUBLE ENTRY JOURNAL


The web offers many “listening skills” quizzes. All these quizzes, though, just ask you to describe your behavior. How “well” you do depends on how many of the “good” behaviors you claim to practice, and how few of the bad ones. And it’s pretty easy, on these quizzes, to see which behaviors are good and which are bad.

So, it’s very easy to make yourself look good on paper! It’s a lot harder to be honest—to admit to using the “bad” behaviors sometimes and to admit that you don’t practice the good ones as much as you might.  


Here are two lists: the first has 5 “good” listening behaviors and the second has 5 “bad” listening behaviors. 

 Step 1. Read the lists carefully

LIST 1 :

  1. I wait for people to say what they are saying before I respond. 
  2. When people speak with me, I make eye contact, as appropriate. 
  3. In discussions, I pay attention to people’s body language. 
  4. When someone finishes talking with me, I repeat what I thought were the main points. 
  5. If I’m unsure what someone means, I ask that person to explain. 

LIST 2: 

  1. If someone pauses before he or she is finished speaking, I jump in with my own thoughts. 
  2. When I get a call or text during a serious discussion, I respond immediately. 
  3. I’m impatient when I think people take too long to make their points. 
  4. Discussions are boring unless I get to talk a lot. 
  5. When people are talking, I let them know right away if I don’t like what I hear. 

Step 2. Now re-read the lists and try to recognize your own every-day, real behavior. First, you’ll probably get a good idea of several things you need to work on. Second, you’ll get a good idea of why careful listening is difficult for most people.

You’re not alone in this: humans have difficulties communicating. Using language to communicate well is just that way. But we can get better at talking and listening. It’s hard work, but anyone can do it because the language we share makes it possible.  

Step 3. Write up a plan to help you improve a little bit. For example:

If you are an impatient listener, the plan might be

"I will wait until I’m sure someone has completed what she has to say before adding my own thoughts.”

If your mind wanders when others talk, the plan might be

“I will concentrate better on what others say because that’s the only way I can find out what concerns them.”


 The difficulty that people have in listening to one another is a major barrier to creating an effective team. Making changes to your own communication practices—such as those in step 3, above—will help you make your team better. over time. If you improve one thing, you’ll be able to improve more and also improve more quickly. One success paves the way for another. Changes you make will help others change, too. 


Module: Communication and Collaboration

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