Listening takes up more of our daily communications than any other activity, yet researchers claim that up to 75% of verbalisation is ignored, misunderstood or quickly forgotten.  Listening is not simply hearing.  It involves hearing and understanding the meaning being conveyed.

Listening involves attending skills.  This is when you show the other you are interested in them and what they are saying by, keeping eye contact, using minimal prompts (uh-huh, ok, right, I see etc.), keeping a posture of involvement (turning towards the speaker, keeping an open position, positioning yourself within reasonable proximity to the speaker, avoiding making distracting eye, body motions or gestures).  Listening attentively also means that you prevent any distraction from occurring in your environment.  If there happens to be a noise that is preventing you from hearing, change, location or make an effort to have the noise reduced.

Many people find it surprising that they have to really work at attending. We are so used to multi-tasking but not really focusing properly on any one task.

Case Study

Julia comes home from work and is greeted by her teenage daughter, Louise, who has been at school during the day.  Louise begins to speak to her mother as Julia prepares dinner.  She wants to tell her about a situation that took place with a friend. When Louise asks Julia, “Do you think that was fair?” she receives no reply, and rightly feels that her mother has not been paying attention.  Julia tries to save the conversation when she realises the daughter has stopped talking. She asks, “What’s not fair?” But too late.  Louise stops talking because she knows that her mother may have heard what she said, but she was not to the meaning of the words – she was not listening.


An effective paraphrase or response to the speaker that lets them know you heard the content of their message, involves understanding the speakers frame of reference.  It is concise and clearly conveys the receivers understanding of the sender’s message.

Paraphrasing is vital to understanding the meaning of the message as the speaker intended it.  If you can do this, then the likelihood of misunderstanding occurring is considerably reduced.

Reflective responses – Emotions

Recall a time when you were communicating a feeling to someone, and see if you can recall how you felt when they acknowledged your response. Did you feel understood, and listened to?

Reflecting someone’s feeling involves letting them know what emotion it was they were/are experiencing.  Depending on the communication taking place at the time (you would not reflect back the emotion necessarily in a business meeting, or during coordinating a crisis response), this is the vital first step to letting the other person know you are following where they are at.

Sometimes a speaker will not use feeling words to describe what emotion they are conveying.  Instead it is up to the listener to pick up on the cues.

We can all improve our sensitivity to hear feelings.  Even though we live in a world that seems to shy away from being truthful with our feelings, there are 4 main points to consider to improve your skill in identifying the correct feeling.


  • Note the general content of the message (what are they trying to convey?)
  • Observe the Body language
  • Focus on any feeling words used
  • Listen to the tone of voice used
  • Ask yourself what you would be feeling in the same situation

Reflective responses – Content

The content of the communication is usually identified by reflecting back (paraphrasing) what the person said.

More than this, when the feelings and the content have been identified correctly a true reflection of meaning can be conveyed.  This is where a lot of communication breaks down, because we either reflect back the meaning or the feeling but not both, hence the speaker is unsure as to whether their message has been truly understood.  If we think back to our feeling, thinking, behaving triangle, we can see that when part of the message is not received, then it has not been understood holistically – on all the essential levels.  Reflecting accurately provides a validating effective for the speaker and any emotional distress felt by the speaker can often be calmed.


This is a skill that can assist you when someone is speaking at length to you and you have to reflect back quite large chunks of information and feeling. It is a brief reflection of the main themes discussed and recaps on the most intensely conveyed thoughts and feelings of the speaker.  It involves gathering and selecting pieces of information that are relevant and placing them in a coherent, concise way, to not only show the speaker you have been listening but to help the speaker understand what they have said.  It is a highly respectful form of communicating when done effectively as it shows the speaker that you have been following them the whole way through.

It may be helpful at first to actually write down the speakers main points so that you can get the idea of picking up on the key issues raised (it is best to obtain the speakers consent beforehand).

These tools are extremely powerful and help to decode the speakers/senders message and help take the guess work out of receiving the message.



As soon as a skill becomes second nature it is not uncommon for the skill to be taken for granted and depending on how we may be feeling at any particular time, for the skill to be demonstrated ineffectively (when we may be too tired, or have other concerns on our mind).  In order to prevent this from happening, it will serve you well to keep in mind the following:

  • Don’t fake understanding (if you don’t understand, keep trying your reflecting until you do)
  • Don’t tell the speaker you know how they feel (saying “I know how you feel”, when someone has had a lousy day, merely puts the focus back on you, and really you can never understand exactly how another feels BUT you can relate to it – which is entirely different)
  • Try not to respond the same way every time
  • Remember to identify the feelings and to reflect them (don’t automatically revert back to remaining in the intellect, especially when you are speaking with someone who shies away from their feelings).
  • Vary the vocal quality.  Be warm and emphasise feeling words that the client expresses  (try not to remain always calmly spoken, or excited)
  • Refrain from giving advice
  • Remain focused and relevant

Course extract from Relationships and Communications Counselling course offered by Health Academy Australia