Module Two—Communication and Listening Skills

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Module Two—Communication and Listening Skills

Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much.”

Robert Greenleaf
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Stephen Covey
There’s so arguing that communication is an integral part of any relationship, be it familial, friendship, business, or romantic. In fact, an absence or breakdown of communication can put even the best relationships in serious jeopardy. Poor communication often leads to feelings of betrayal, growing distrust, misunderstandings, and even social isolation. Contrary to popular belief, the foundation of solid communication is not making yourself be heard or expressing yourself clearly. While these are elements of good communication, the real core of communication is understanding where the other person is coming from. Productive communication simply cannot exist without both parties expressing ideas and making efforts towards genuine listening. Though this may seem paradoxical, the key to communication is more about listening to the other than flooding him or her with information about who you are, what you want, and how you feel. Remember, disappointing or not, the ultimate goal of communication is most often compromise.
Communicating effectively or opening the lines of communication needn’t feel forced or incredibly unnatural—even the most hesitant communicators can improve with a bit of effort and attention to detail. The first step in becoming an admirable communicator is to pay attention to what makes a good communicator. When, for example, do you hit walls in your own dealings with other people? Replay your conversations in your mind, asking yourself what may have gone wrong—or right. For the sake of improving your own proficiency, observe the subtle habits of excellent communicators: people who make themselves understood and seem to understand the needs, experiences, and feelings of those around them. Most of all, never forget even in moments of frustration, that you can get better at communicating. Practice makes perfect!

Importance of Communication

Why is communication important? Some reasons were listed in the above paragraph. These are other considerations:

Stimulates interaction between you and someone else

Calms (or creates) fears and apprehensions

Is useful for assessment of a situation or of learning

Is necessary for accurate clarification

Can be used for modeling correct behaviors, grammar, expectations

Establishes rapport

Promotes understanding

Builds self-confidence
What is Communication?

Communication is multi-faceted. It involves both speaking and listening. The speaker is the sender, while the listener is the receiver. Both require paying attention to what is being said as well as how it is being said.
Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. In fact, only 7% of communication is verbal, what is actually stated. Therefore, 93% of communication is nonverbal: sighs, laughs, facial expressions, body stance, eye contact (or lack of), paying attention (or inattentiveness), fidgeting, “tuning out” and numerous other physical attributes contribute to nonverbal communication. It is essential for a good communicator to aware of body language and other nonverbal indicators, as this is the primary source of receptive communication.
Barriers to Communication

Hearing, but not listening

Background experiences

Personal problems



Different first language

Lack of rapport between speaker and audience


Too many divergent topics

Improving Communication

Focus on the speaker

Establish rapport

Model proper listening skills

Improve nonverbal skills

Summarize important points

Follow an outline when speaking

Check for understanding

Practice active listening
You were born with 2 ears and 1 mouth. The greatest gift we can give each other is to listen twice as much as we speak.
Keys for Good Communication with Tutees

  1. Make the first meeting with your tutee a positive experience. Be consistent in body, voice, and words. Be careful with nonverbal communication. Establish rapport by initiating eye contact, listening patiently, and remaining open to what the tutee says.

  1. Find out why the student has requested tutoring; this will give you a focus to plan future tutoring sessions. Some students know exactly where they are having trouble, some can point out general difficulties, while others can only vaguely describe the source of their confusion. Some students will feel anxious because they fear failing, others lack confidence, some have no interest in the course but must take it as a degree requirement, some are overwhelmed by requirements for a course. Having background information can facilitate effective tutoring.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with yes/no or one-word answers have less value than those that ask the student to demonstrate understanding. “What if” questions and analogies are excellent strategies for expanding understanding.

  1. Ask tutees to verbalize examples, explanations, theories, processes, effects, comparisons, solutions, and arguments.

  1. Tutees who say “yes” when you ask if they understand do not always really understand. They may falsely believe that they understand. They may feel stupid if they admit that they do not understand what you just explained. Or, they may think that they will hurt your feelings if your explanation does not make sense to them. Find ways to check tutees’ understanding to see if they really grasp ideas.

  1. Question, prod, guide, and suggest rather than lecturing.

  1. Let your tutees know that they are partners in the tutoring relationship. They have to contribute to make the relationship work. Tutees are expected to be on time, to bring all necessary materials, to practice what you discuss, and to be prepared for each session. The tutor also needs to be prepared for each session, and must do his/her best to build the confidence of the tutee.

  1. Assist students to figure out answers for themselves. These three steps can help: (1) provide instruction, (2) require a response, and (3) give feedback. In other words, present the information briefly, have the student respond and talk about the material, then let the student know when the answer is correct or incorrect.

  1. Talk to your tutees about short- and long-term goals. Try to help tutees see how each session moves them closer to fulfilling their goals. It is also helpful to focus on one goal or skill at a time. It is difficult to learn everything at once.

  1. End each session on a positive note!

Motivation Enhances Communication

The most important factors that lead to student success are a strong motivation to succeed, good learning skills, and excellent communication. The following are tips to help motivate students:

* Find out about your students’ interests, experiences, hobbies, goals, etc. As often as you can, relate the content to the students’ interests.

* Use lots of examples, illustrations, anecdotes, and stories.

* Use humor.

* Admit your mistakes or lack of knowledge. It is OK to be a “real” person.

* Talk less than your students do.

* Give positive feedback verbally (praise) and nonverbally (make eye contact, smile, nod).

* Make sure that the level of tutoring matches students’ background, ability, and experience.

* Check that the relevance of what you are doing is clear to the students.

* Use as much variety in your methods and materials as possible.

* Encourage students to make decisions about their own learning—give them CHOICES, act on their suggestions.

* Ask students how they would make the session more interesting.


We Learn. . .
10%. . .of What We Read

20%. . .of What We Hear

30%. . .of What We See

50%. . .of What We See and Hear

70%. . .of What We Discuss With Others

80%. . .of What We Experience Personally

90%. . .of What We Teach Others
By William Glasser

Listening Skills

What is Listening?

Which activity involves the most amount of listening? Students spend 20% of all school related hours just listening. If television watching and one-half of conversations are included, students spend approximately 50% of their waking hours just listening. For those hours spent in the classroom, the amount of listening time can be almost 100%! Look at your own activities, especially those related to college. Are most of your activities focused around listening, especially in the classroom?
If you ask a group of students to give a one-word description of listening, some would say “hearing”; however, hearing is physical. “Listening” is following and understanding the sound—it is hearing with a purpose. Good listening is built on three basic skills: attitude, attention, and adjustment. These skills are known collectively as Triple-A Listening.
Listeningis the absorption of the meanings of words and sentences by the brain. Listening leads to the understanding of facts and ideas. But listening takes attention, or sticking to the task at hand in spite of distractions. It requires concentration, which is the focusing of your thoughts upon one particular problem. A person who incorporates listening with concentration is actively listening. Active listening is a method of responding to another that encourages communication.
Listening is a very important skill, especially for tutors. Many tutors tend to talk too much during a tutorial session. This defeats the purpose of tutoring, which is to allow students to learn by discussion and discovery. Rather than turning the session into a mini-lecture, tutors must actively listen and encourage their students to become active learners.
In Study Skills for Learning Power (Hellyer, Robinson, and Sherwood, 1998), the authors distinguish between powerlisteners and passivelisteners. A POWER listener is one who is actively involved: he/she comes to class prepared with homework and all texts and other materials; is punctual; has a positive attitude toward the class and instructor specifically and toward learning in general. A PASSIVE listener has the opposite characteristics; he/she hears the words being said, but makes little attempt to engage the mind to understand the message.
Triple-A Listening

Walter Pauk writes in How to Study in College (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) that a lecture’s value can be extracted only through listening. But listening is not the same as hearing. Listening is a conscious activity based on the three basic skills of attitude, attention, and adjustment. These are collectively known as Triple-A Listening.

*Maintain a constructive Attitude.

A positive attitude paves the way for open-mindedness. Don’t assume a lecture is going to be dull. Even if the lecturer makes statements you don’t agree with, don’t decide he or she is automatically wrong. Don’t let reactive interference prevent you from recalling the speaker’s key points.
*Strive to pay Attention

You must focus on the lecture or information you are being presented. What you hear will enter your short-term memory. It must be swiftly processed into ideas. If information is not processed, it will dumped from short-term memory and will be gone forever. Attentive listening makes sure the ideas are processed.
*Cultivate a capacity for Adjustment

Although some speakers clearly indicate what they intend to cover in their lectures, you need to be flexible enough to follow a lecture regardless of the direction it may take. If, however, you are thoroughly lost, or if the speaker’s message is not coming across and you need to ask a clarifying question, do so!

Active Listening

As stated earlier, Power Listeners are involved listeners; they practice active listening.

The Poynter Institute has devised the following chart:
Active Listening Techniques
Type of Statement Purpose To Achieve Purpose Examples
A. Encouraging . To convey Don’t agree or disagree. 1. “I see. . .”

interest. Use noncommittal words 2. “Uh-huh. . .”

2. To keep the with positive tone of 3. “That’s

person talking voice. interesting. . .”
B. Restating 1. To show that Restate the other’s 1. “If I understand,

you are listening basic ideas, your idea is. . .”

and understand. emphasizing the facts. 2. “In other words,

2. To let the your decision. . .”

person know

you grasp the facts.
C. Reflecting 1. To show that Restate the other’s 1. “You feel that. . .”

you are listening basic feelings. 2. “You were pretty

and understand. disturbed by this. . .

2. To let others

know you under-

D. Summarizing .To pull Restate, reflect, and 1. “These seem to

important summarize major be the key ideas

ideas, facts, etc. ideas and feelings. you have

together. expressed. . .”

2. To establish 2. “If I understand

a basis for you, you feel this

further discussion. way about the

3. To review situation. . .”


Each letter of the word LISTEN will guide you toward becoming a better listener.
LOOKInstructors usually present their lectures in five main parts:

  1. Introduction: The opening statements

  2. Thesis Statement: The topic to be covered

  3. Body: Information to be learned about the topic

  4. Summary: What the instructor covered that day

  5. Irrelevancies: Filler or off-the-topic material

Look and listen for patterns in lectures. Your understanding will improve if you can see the order and consistency in the lecture and anticipate what comes next.
IDENTIFY—Identify your reasons for wanting to listen or you will be unmotivated. It is

your responsibility to get what you want from a lecture.
SET Up—Set up the situation to maximize the possibility of hearing and understanding

the lecture. Your ears, eyes, and brain are parts of your listening apparatus.

Be rested enough to keep your eyes open and stay awake; maintain eye

contact. Block out noise and distractions by sitting where you will be least

bothered. Use your brain to ask questions for clarification.
TUNE IN—Learn to increase your attention span by timing just how long you can last

before you think of something else. When your brain wanders, write down

that thought and set a time for later when you will deal with it. Pay careful

attention to how an instructor stresses important points, whether verbally or


EXAMINE—Examine the context to determine the main points. Read each assignment

before class to have a general idea of topics to be covered. This will keep

your ear tuned to hear the important rather than the trivial. Use questions

such as “Is this what you mean?” to make sure you understand.
NOTES—Taking notes will help you stay tuned in. Write down a word or two even if

the material is familiar; this will keep you listening.
(LISTEN acronym taken from Systems for Study, Alton Raygor (McGraw-Hill, 1970).

Keys to Listening The Poor Listener The Good Listener
1. Find areas of interest. Tunes out dry topics. Seizes opportunities:

“What’s in it for me?”
2. Judge content, not delivery. Tunes out poor if delivery Judges content; skips

is poor. over delivery errors.
3. Hold your fire. Tends to enter into argument. Doesn’t judge until com-

prehension is complete.
4. Listen for ideas. Listen for facts. Listen for central themes.
5. Be a flexible note-taker. Is busy with form, misses Adjusts to topic and

content. organizational patterns.
6.Work at listening. Shows no energy output, Works hard,

fakes attention. Exhibits alertness.
7. Resist distractions. Is distracted easily. Fights or avoids distractions,

tolerates bad habits in others,

knows how to concentrate.
8. Exercise your mind. Resists difficult material, Uses heavier expository

seeks light, recreational material as exercise for the

material. mind.
9. Keep your mind open. Reacts to emotional words. Interprets emotional words;

does not get hung up on them.
10. Thought is faster than Tends to daydream with Challenges, anticipates,

speech; use it! slow speakers. mentally summarizes; weighs

the evidence; listens between
Source: How to Study in College, Walter Pauk, Houghton-Mifflin, 2001.

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