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What Listening Skills Exercises Work Best?

September 6, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Listening

What Listening Skills Exercises Work Best?

Many organizations give employees the chance to participate in listening workshops and activities to familiarize employees with the listening process. This is simply because well-honed listening skills can greatly enhance communication in the workplace and deliver many benefits. These include better customer service relationships, improved workplace relationships and less misunderstandings and conflicts (which so often arise from poor communication) just to name a few. However, most human resource and training professionals recognize that lecture-style workshops are often a poor way to develop listening skills and instead prefer to make the training more experiential. One way in which to do this is to use particular listening skill exercises and below we have therefore described four that often work well.

1. Journey to work

In this pairs exercise delegates are asked to work in pairs and write down their journey to work in a very detailed way, for instance: “I get into my car and turn left out of my driveway.  At the end of the street, I turn right and take the second right onto the main road at the traffic light.”

Person A should then read their journey to Person B.  Person B should stop Person A when they think they have heard as much as they can accurately repeat back – word for word.  They should then repeat what they have heard.  Person A checks whether it is accurate and if so, they continue with the next stage of the journey.  If it is not correct, they should repeat that part of the journey again until person B can recite it word perfectly.  Continue until the journey is ended and the delegates swap over.

The exercise demonstrates that there are lots of distractions to effective listening, that we have a very short attention span and that we tend to put things in our own words, which can alter the meaning.

2. Witness statement

In this group exercise delegates are given a pre-written fictitious crime witness statement (which is read to them).  After the reading, a facilitator ask the group who tuned into particular facts (i.e. remembered the details), who picked up on the feelings or emotions in the statement  (e.g. distress, concern anxiety etc.) and who focused on intent (what might have gone unsaid, possible motives etc.).

The exercise aims to show that many of us have a preferred “frequency” that we listen on.

You can also get the group into pairs to discuss what they would say to or ask the witness if they were interviewing them after the crime (and listen to understand).  Then point out whether this is a fact, feeling or intent comment/question.

The aim is to demonstrate that listening is not just about active listening and recall, but about getting the whole message in a proper context.

3. The power of active listening

This exercise is quick and easy which shows the power of active listening.

A facilitator splits a group into pairs, A and B.  The B group is asked to leave the room and wait outside.  Inform the A group that their partner will speak to them for three minutes but that they are not allowed to interact at all with them.  They can, however, put up their hand for five seconds every time their partner says something that makes them want to ask a question, for example.

You can also ask them not just to raise their hand, but to lose focus by staring out of the window or looking at a detail on their partner’s clothing, for instance.

Next, inform the B group that they are to speak to their partner about something of interest to them, for instance their last vacation or anything positive that has happened to them within the last few months.

At the end of the three minutes ask the B group how they felt while talking to their partner.  Usually answers include “didn’t feel listened to”, “didn’t understand why they were putting their hand up”, “lost my train of thought because they obviously weren’t listening.”

You can then run the exercise again, this time allowing the A group partner to interact, by asking questions and becoming involved in the conversation.  Then compare the two versions to see which was found to be the most satisfying experience.

4. Stop listening

Take half of the group outside the room and ask those in the room to think of a topic they are passionate about or interested in, whether it is family, movies, or a sporting team.

Those outside come back in and pair up to listen to what those in the room have to say.  However, they will have been briefed to stop listening after 30 seconds.  Usually the speakers become frustrated and annoyed, leading to a useful de-briefing discussion on the impact of listening/not listening.

5. Ideal vacation

The facilitator divides the group into pairs: a listener and a talker.  The talker has to describe what he or she ideally wants from a vacation but without mentioning a destination.  The listener has to practice active listening skills, by listening attentively to what is being said, what is not being said (body language, tone etc.) and by demonstrating their listening to the talker, through their behavior.

After three-four minutes, the listener should summarize the three or four main issues or criteria that he or she has heard the talker express and suggest a possibly suitable destination.

The pairs then take a minute to review how closely the listener’s suggestion matched what the talker had said and needed.  They can also take a minute to review how well the listener demonstrated active listening behaviors. Swap roles and repeat.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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