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Active Listening


1. Look at the speaker. Keep the other

persons in view so you can observe their reactions, but generally maintain

eye contact with the speaker.

2. Show that you’re interested in what he/she is

saying. Encourage by unobtrusive use of “yes,” “I see,” “um hum.” Use positive

body cues at appropriate points — nods, smiles, note-taking, furrowed

brow, etc.

3. Most of the time, lean slightly toward the speaker.

Keep an open, relaxed posture. Keep your physical movement to a minimum.

4. Engage the speaker by looking for opportunities

to subtly mirror his/her cues. Do not mimic, but do look for ways to be

CONGRUENT. For example, if he/she speaks slowly, match his/her cadence.

5. Draw the speaker out. Say something like, “I’d

like to hear a little more about [subject].”

6. Try to listen for what is NOT being said — what’s

missing that you might expect to hear in the circumstances?

7. Observe HOW things are said — the emotions and

attitudes behind the words may be more important than what is actually

said. Look beyond the mere words the speaker uses — remember that much

information is displayed in voice intonation and body language.

8. Say little yourself! You can’t listen while you’re


9. Show that you’re listening and interested by


particularly in early stages, be careful not to interrupt the speaker’s



1. Questions serve three basic purposes:

  • to show you’re

    listening (especially in the early, trust-building stage);

  • to gather and

    organize information (particularly in the problem-solving stage); and

  • to express in

    question form what otherwise might be an academic statement — for

    example, to test reality (most often in problem-solving and closure stages).

2. Generally, questions should be open-ended, not

closed-ended. Closed-ended questions can be answered “yes” or “no,” or

with a specific answer like “two” or “January.” They may encourage the

answerer to stop talking. Open-ended questions cannot be answered so simply,

and encourage the speaker to talk and explain in complete sentences. Open-ended

questions are good because they invite a person to open up and tell his/her

story. Examples of open-ended questions: “Tell me more about [subject],”

“what happened next,” “how did you feel when that happened,” “what would

you like to see as an outcome.” Use close-ended questions exceptionally

— only to increase control over the flow of information or to confirm

certain important facts.


1. When the speaker pauses, there’s an opportunity

to confirm that you’ve been listening and that you understand by FEEDING

BACK what you’ve heard/observed to the speaker. It also is a way to check

that your perception of what you think you heard/observed is accurate,

as well as a way to validate for the speaker what he/she is feeling.

2. To feedback, repeat or paraphrase what the speaker

has said (or displayed as unspoken feelings). Examples: “so, when that

incident happened, you felt like . . .”, “it sounds like an important issue

for you is how to deal with . . .”, “what I think I’m hearing is that you

really need to. . . .”, “I can see that you have strong feelings about

that.” Pause expectantly to let the speaker react. Common signs that you’ve

done it right: the speaker will nod vigorously and/or respond, “yes, and

. . . .”

3. Sometimes, repeating the last couple of words

of a speaker will encourage him/her to go on, but you generally do not

want to repeat verbatim what the speaker said — you may sound like a mimic!

Paraphrase instead. However, DO be conscious of particular words that seem

important to the speaker and use them, if appropriate, in your paraphrasing.

4. REFRAMING is a special way of feeding back, and

is one of the Mediator’s most important tools. It is restating what a party

has said to capture the essence, remove negative overtones, and move the

process forward. Reframing also is a way to translate a positional statement

into a statement of interests or needs. Example: a separated spouse says

angrily, “He’s so irresponsible that I never can depend on him to pick

our child up on schedule.” Simple feedback might be, “so it really bothers

you if he isn’t on time to pick up Johnny” — while a reframed response

might be, “so a regular schedule is important for you and Johnny.” Either

response may be appropriate, and the difference is subtle; the first might

be better at an early point in trust-building, while the second might be

better later, during problem-solving.

5. Summaries are part of most feedback, but sometimes

you want to focus particularly on a summary. At major transitions, such

as after one Party has told his/her story and before you turn to the other

Party, do an overall summary of major points, and ask for confirmation.

6. Generally use neutral language. Example: one

Party says the other was “hysterical.” In feeding back, you might say the

Party was “crying.” A “liar” becomes a person who “disagreed” or “sees

differently.” Be careful not to get so pretentious that the Party feels

you’ve misrepresented their point of view.


1. Stick to the speaker’s subject. You may want

to go to something else, but give the speaker time to finish.

2. Don’t be too quick to try to move on when the

speaker repeats things. Remember, repetition may indicate: (a) that the

subject is very important to the speaker, and (b) that the speaker needs

to feel that you’ve really heard him/her on the subject. This is a cue

that you need to feedback what the speaker is saying.

3. If repetition does go on too long you can try

saying something like, “Well, it’s clear to me that [subject] is very important

to you. Is there anything else that’s also important for us to understand?”

4. Be comfortable with silence. Usually, one of

the Parties will speak up soon enough. Use silent cues — pauses, turning

to another Party expectantly.


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