Employee Assistance Program
Wellness Tips » Communication Skills
Communication between persons can be broken down into three very simple steps. These
The process of LISTENING requires us only to "listen." Listening is a process that requires us to track what
someone is saying so that we can reflect back their thoughts and feelings as a way
to assure them, and ourselves, that what has been expressed has been heard and understood.
Often, instead of listening we try to defend ourselves or our point of view. Many
people mistakenly believe that if they do not agree with someone, they cannot listen
to them or accept their perspective. It is important to remember that when you are
listening, your job is to hear and try to understand what the other person is saying.
However, just because you hear and accept them does not necessarily mean you agree
There are a few techniques that can help us be convincing, active listeners. The first
is SILENT LISTENING. The silent listener does all their work with body language. A nod of the head, extended
eye contact, or a simple smile can send a strong message that we are not only listening,
but also actually interested.
Body language can also send a strong negative message, so make sure that what your
body is "saying" is supportive. A person is much less likely to let you know what
is going on for him or her if you are sitting in a far away chair with your arms folded
and a snarl on your face. Remember that if what you are saying ("let's talk, sure
we can discuss this") is different from your body language (closed posture, frown),
most people will respond to your body language.
You can use supportive non-verbals to get someone to continue talking. SUPPORTIVE LISTENING sends the message VERBALLY that silent listening sends with body language. Examples of supportive listening
are saying, "Is that right," "I see what you mean" or "You're kidding." The comments
are short and encourage the other person to tell you more.
PROMPTIVE LISTENING is a technique that sends the message,I hear you and I want to understand you." Promptive
listening is an effort to "prompt" someone to continue talking. Examples include:
"What happened next" and "What's the matter."
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REFLECTING is a technique that can save us a lot of time and headaches. When we reflect,
we are taking time to summarize what we have just heard in an effort to make sure
we heard it correctly. Often we spend a lot of time arguing about, or trying to fix
things that weren't even a problem to begin with.
Repeating what someone has said ensures we don't bark up the wrong tree and assures
that we are hearing what they are saying. This step is especially important when you
are dealing with sensitive or difficult topics because we may read into what the other
person is saying based on our own feelings. We may also stop listening to the other
person because we are so busy trying to figure out how we are going to defend ourselves.
Remember that when you reflect, you are not giving your opinion about what they are
saying; you are summarizing to make sure you heard what they said. An example of reflecting
would be "I heard you say you were angry with me because I didn't call when I was
going to be late and you were worried. You wondered if something had happened. Is
that right?" This may or may not be the message the other person was trying to convey;
however, if you reflect this back, he or she will get a chance to clarify it.
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VALIDATION, another very useful technique, is the most difficult to do, and certainly
can't be done properly if we haven't REALLY heard what the other person is saying.
Validation is an attempt to let the other person know that you can accept, and are
empathetic with, what they have expressed.
There are three levels of validation.
Level 1 is when we have listened to what the other person is saying and we can totally agree
with them. We might say something like "you're absolutely right!" or "I couldn't agree
with you more!" This isn't as easy as it sounds because often the other person is
expressing feelings about what we are or are not doing that is problematic. Listening
with the intent to agree is different than shutting down the minute we hear what we
might label as criticism.
Feelings are only feelings; they are not necessarily the "ultimate truth"; after all,
how can you argue with how a person feels? Expressing how we FEEL to the other person
shouldn't be about who is right or who is wrong; after all, feelings are not right
or wrong, they are just feelings. When you listen to the other person's expressions
with this in mind, it's often much easier to hear and validate without becoming defensive
Level 2 validation is an attempt to find something that the other person said that you can
agree with. This is why it's so important that we continue to listen, rather than
shut down or try to figure out how we are going to "come back" at them when it is
our turn to talk. For example, if your wife told you "You are a poor husband, terrible
father, and a rotten friend!", you may be tempted to stop listening to her after the
poor husband part instead of listening for something you might be able to agree with
Finding something you can agree with is the intent of Level 2. In the example above,
you may not agree about the father and friend part, but might agree that you haven't
been the best husband lately. This can be expressed by saying "You know you're right,
I haven't been the most attentive husband the past few weeks." Often this simple concession
(validation) can relieve enough tension that the other two criticisms are shelved.
It can also help the other person get to the point where you can problem solve rather
than point the finger.
Level 3 is a process we can use when we don't agree with any of the thoughts or ideas being
expressed. Here we simply let the other person know that his or her feelings are obviously
important and that we will give them the consideration they deserve. Sometimes stating,
"I can see that this is something you feel strongly about" can help diffuse tension
and anger. It does not say that you agree with him or her, but that you recognize
the feelings and that they carry importance for you.
REMEMBER: You do not have to agree with someone to accept his or her perspective.
Working to understand what they think and how they feel is validation in and of itself.
You can't do this if you are worried about defending your own ideas about what is
right or wrong.
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