Learning to listen

Learning to Listen

A short interactive workshop on improving your listening and interpersonal communication skills.

This will include:-

~ Helping to find ways of offering emotional support.

~ How do we listen to people who need us?

~ Exploring the barriers that can prevent us from listening.

~ Knowing the difference between sympathy and empathy.

‘Our love for others is learning to listen to them’ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Introductions / what the session is about – ‘Listening to others is a great privilege’. Icebreaker Exercise – get into pairs. You will have 3 minutes each to talk about someone you admire or look up to. You can’t write anything down or ask any questions. You will need to listen carefully to each other. Then we will feedback to the group.

Active Listening

1) Have you had times when you were listening to someone and your mind kept wandering off while they were speaking?

2) When a person is speaking to you, do you sometimes think about your response, instead of focusing on what they are saying in the moment?

3) Do you sometimes jump in with your own ideas while the speaker is still speaking to you?


We are now going to listen to an example of two friends talking after an accident. After we have listened to the dialogue we will consider how well the person who had been involved in the accident was actively listened to.

How well was the person who had been involved in the accident listened to?

Emotional Support

Listening and speaking are the basic communication tools we use every day.

We are going to start by considering what we mean by emotional support.

Ask what the elements of emotional support might be?

~ Acceptance and being non judgemental

~ Allows sharing of emotions with sensitivity

~ Putting aside our own values and beliefs

~ Seeing the world from the other person’s perspective

Ask what non verbal communication is to them?

Mention the importance of non-verbal communication eg voice – tone, pitch, volume, body language and facial expressions.

The way we use our body and the expressions on our face are forms of non verbal communication that can indicate a commitment to listen. Leaning forward comes across quite differently from sprawling back. Eye contact, coupled with a pleasant expression, communicates acceptance of what the speaker is saying.

Tone of voice, pitch, stress, and volume really do make a difference and it is easy to ignore them because they aren’t verbal.

Non verbal cues differ from one culture to another. If you desire to develop relationships with people from another culture, check out with them what the non verbal cues are in their culture that indicate that someone is listening.

What stops us from listening?Brain storm in pairs or in group?

Our own experiences

Our own prejudices

Our own state of mind


Environmental factors

Mind reading

Selective hearing

Day dreaming



Trying to fix things

Open and Closed Questions – knowing the difference

What, Where, When, How,

Why – can sound judgemental, critical or even aggressive.

Can you tell me what led you to?

How did you come to that decision?

What factors led you in that direction?

Closed questions require a Yes or No answer

eg ‘Did you enjoy Gareth’s sermon this morning?’

Open question eg ‘What did you learn from Gareth’s sermon this morning?’

Too many questions can make the speaker feel on the spot.

Effective questions relate to what your conversation partner has said. They are sensitive and neutral, while being open and general enough so that your conversation partner has options of how to respond.

Role play

A young couple in the church who are married with two small children under five and another baby on the way have just been told the husband has lost his job. The wife phones the minister of their church the phones and the minister says…..

How can help?

Hello it’s Julie from church (crying)

Take your time, I can hear you are upset, would you like to get a drink of water while I hold on?

Thank you……..are you still there?

Yes when you are ready would you like to tell me what’s troubling you. There is no rush.

It’s Peter, he has lost his job and the baby is on it’s way. We won’t be able to pay the bills. What will we do?

I see, I hear what you are saying. What would you like me to do to help?

I don’t really know.

Would it be an idea for someone from the church to come round and pray with you?

The flat is a tip and I can’t stop crying. The children are unsettled and Peter is so angry about everything he has stormed out!

Can check if I have understood, did you say that Peter is angry and stormed out and the children are unsettled.


I can hear that you are very distressed Julie which is understandable with all you are going through at the moment.

I’m so sorry I have bothered you. There are people out with far worse problems I know.

You are my priority right now Julie and I want to support you and Peter in any way that I can.

Oh, Peter has just come it’s such a relief.

Shall give you and Peter some to talk once you have got the children. Would you like me to get in touch later this evening or in the morning?

Perhaps in the morning please, thank you so much for listening.

  1. Now that you have listened to the conversation, do you think the minister supported Julie during that telephone conversation?

Reflective listening techniques

eg ‘It sounds as if you are saying….?’

‘Can I check if I’ve understood, did you say….?

‘So that’s like you….?’

‘So she went and….?

‘Can you tell me more about….?

‘I wonder if you can tell me how….?

‘How did that make you feel….?

‘If you had the choice, what options might be there be….?’

Minimal Encouragers

We also indicate our willingness to listen by the short sounds or the words we say.

eg ‘Mmm’ , ‘I see’, ‘Yes’, ‘Right’, ‘Go on’, ‘So?’, ‘Really?’, ‘Tell me more?’

Monitoring our use of minimal encouragers is essential because repeated use of the same word or phrase over and over makes us sound like we are listening in a rote fashion like a mechanical doll, rather than with compassion and kindness.


Can you please consider the difference between empathy and sympathy while we watch a short video clip :- Brene Brown on Empathy

Empathy – can anyone give their definition of empathy?

Definition of Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others offering compassion and concern. It is an internal motivator to be a caring person who is genuinely interested about the well being of others. We get as near as possible to viewing the situation from the other persons perspective.

Definition of Sympathy is feeling for someone particularly if they are going through a bad time.

Empathetic Listening Skills

Quiet your mind and focus on the other person as they are speaking.

Listen fully and openly to what they are saying.

Listen through the words and show some approval of the other person’s feelings and what they are saying.

Don’t interrupt them as they are speaking to you or try to finish their sentences. We simply cannot listen if we are talking.

Say back to them in your own words what they said and their feelings that you sensed from them.

From scripture we find in James 1 v19, ‘You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen.’

Research indicates many people are poor listeners. Although virtually everyone listens, only a few do it well. Skill in listening is not a ‘natural ability’ but one that everyone must work to develop. Active listening demands concentration. The listener searches for meaning and understanding. It requires energy and effort and is thus potentially tiring because it can be hard work.


Learning the art of silent responsiveness is essential to good listening. Silence can be soothing for someone in any kind of pain, and silence also allows the speaker to express strong emotions such as joy or excitement.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes notes, ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…..a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3 v7.

Phil Slaney & Wendy Sandilands – Workshop notes 21stOctober 2018