Actively listen and capture one of the most important aspects of effective facilitation. As an active listener, you feedback (emphasize, restate) what the speaker has offered to the group, and more importantly, why.  Be sure to reflect on the rationale, the ‘because’ behind the speaker’s main point.  To actively listen serves several purposes:

  • Often, the participant is formulating thoughts on the spot and the playback helps one to further develop the thought process.  The act of communication affects the content being communicated and shared.
  • Participants experience being heard—listened to.
  • Separate the arguments and opinions from the people or the contributing participant so that everyone can join in.
  • To reflect effectively, all need to understand the essence of the reason(s) supporting each participant’s message.
  • You express an attitude of openness and listening.

“Talking is what I do, but listening is my job.”
— Ryan Seacrest

Four Steps

People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Active listening requires four discrete steps.

  1. CONTACT—connect with the participant who is contributing; eye contact, open posture, and nonverbal responses.
  2. ABSORB—take in all aspects of the spoken message, implicit and explicit and nonverbal clues. Do not judge or evaluate.
  3. REFLECTIVE FEEDBACK—mirror, reflect, or feedback what you have heard and why the contributor claims to be valid.
  4. CONFIRM—receive confirmation from the speaker that you heard the participant’s message accurately. If not, start the method over again at the beginning by having the speaker restate their view.

Feeding Back

“To listen with understanding means seeing the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, sensing how it feels to the person . . . This may sound absurdly simple, but it is not.”
—Dr Carl R Rogers

How to Actively Listen Relies on Reflection 

Providing feedback or reflection captures the single most important part of active listening. Reflection can be either oral or visual. Reflection distinguishes active from passive listening, where people conversationally move from one statement to the next without verifying that content has been understood.

While verbatim are frequently preferred, optionally provide feedback and confirm content using one of these three techniques.

  1. Synthesize—shape fragments into a whole, work through the stream of consciousness found in group discussions.
  2. Summarize—much communication occurs without foresight. Often more words are used than necessary. When you summarize, boil it down to its essence or core message, ideally to the point of isolating the key verb and noun components first. Participants more frequently argue about adjectives and adverbs.
  3. Paraphrase—saying, repeating what the participant(s) said using somewhat different words while preserving the original meaning or intention.

When providing reflective feedback, depersonalize the content with your rhetoric. Do NOT say ‘You said . . . ‘  Rather, convert their statements with integrative rhetoric such as, “We heard . . .”

Strive for completeness when providing reflection. Try to avoid the general ‘Does everyone agree with THAT?’ by replacing content for the impersonal pronoun “that”. For example, ‘Does everyone agree that torture can be consciously objectionable?’ works better because participants now better understand the exact reflection.

Why It Works

Active listening is a powerful tool because it builds relationships between participants. Exercising active listening sets an example for all participants and lays the foundation for clarity and understanding.

Through a confirmation process we are permitted a clearer and potentially deeper understanding about the assumptions that different perspectives embrace in their decision-making. In other words, it makes it easier to see the world through others’ eyes.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

First of all, go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources such as annotated agendasbreak timers and templates used in our FAST Professional Leadership, Facilitation, and Methodology Training.

Furthermore, the FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual. Attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world.  See MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, or 3.2 CEUs).

Finally, don’t forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. Change or Die provides detailed workshop agendas.  It also includes numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective.

We are daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Related Posts: 10 Facilitation Techniques That Will Make Your Meetings Sing

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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