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By Bonnie Black

Issue: August 2022

When organizations (or families) are facing something different, the natural reaction is to hunker down and grab on to the “known.” We close out what feels different and many have an initial reaction to dig in their heels. That’s how some of us reacted to the beginning of the pandemic. Yet, when faced with the unknown or the difficult, a few will get a glint in their eye and walk toward the challenge.

WHICH REACTION DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE? If we have been able to develop our Emotional Intelligence skills, we can be the person with a glint in our eye when facing the inevitable, the predictable, moment of Change.

Becoming more Self-Aware through active listening will guide us on the path forward. A handout that I have made available at trainings on Change and Emotional Intelligence includes the 24 points below which any of us can use as a touchstone from time-to-time to assure that we are using our active listening skills – whether facing imminent change or not.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council’s resource guide, Becoming a Better Senior Corps Supervisor: A Resource Guide for Senior Corps Project Directors, the following effective practices will cultivate and/or improve active listening skills:

FIND A QUIET, PRIVATE PLACE TO LISTEN. Hallways, shared offices and other busy places are not conducive to active listening. A quiet spot works better for focusing attention and creating a nonthreatening environment.

WANT TO LISTEN. Almost all problems in listening can be overcome by having the right attitude. Remember, there is no such thing as uninteresting people, only uninterested listeners.

ACT LIKE A GOOD LISTENER. Be alert, sit straight, lean forward if that’s appropriate, let your face radiate interest.

LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND. Do not just listen for the sake of listening; listen to gain a real understanding of what is being said.

REACT. The only time a person likes to be interrupted is when he or she is applauded. Make the other person feel important. Applaud with nods, smiles, comments, and encouragement.

STOP TALKING. You can’t listen while you are talking. Communicate — don’t just take turns talking.

EMPATHIZE. Try to put yourself in the other person’s place so that you can see his or her point of view.

CONCENTRATE ON WHAT THE OTHER IS SAYING. Actively focus your attention on the words, the ideas and the feelings related to the subject.

LOOK AT THE OTHER PERSON. Face, mouth, eyes, and hands will all help the other person communicate with you and help you concentrate too.

LEAVE YOUR EMOTIONS BEHIND (IF YOU CAN). Try to push your worries, fears and problems away. They may prevent you from listening well.

GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS. Put down any paper, pencils or anything you may have in your hands; they may distract your attention.

GET THE MAIN POINTS (THE BIG STORY). Concentrate on the main ideas and not on the illustrative material. Examples, stories and statistics are important, but are not usually the main points. Examine them only to see if they prove, support or define the main idea.

SHARE RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNICATION. Only part of the responsibility rests with the speaker; you as the listener have an important part. Try to understand; if you don’t, ask for clarification.

REACT TO IDEAS, NOT TO THE PERSON. Don’t allow your reaction to the person to affect your interpretation of words. Good ideas can come from people whose looks or personality you don’t like.

DON’T ARGUE MENTALLY. When you are trying to understand the other person, it is a handicap to argue mentally while you are listening. It sets up a barrier between you and the speaker.

USE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SPEED AT WHICH YOU CAN LISTEN AND THE SPEED AT WHICH A PERSON CAN TALK. You can listen faster than anyone can talk. Human speech is about 100 to 150 words per minute; thinking is about 500. Use this rate difference to your advantage by trying to stay on the right track and think back over what the speaker has said.

DON’T ANTAGONIZE THE SPEAKER. You may cause the other person to conceal ideas, emotions and attitudes in many ways: arguing, criticizing, taking notes, not taking notes, asking questions, not asking questions. Try to judge and be aware of the effect you are having on the other person. Adapt to the speaker.


PUT THE SPEAKER AT EASE. Help him or her feel free to talk.

BE PATIENT. Allow plenty of time. Do not interrupt. Avoid heading for the door.

HOLD YOUR TEMPER. An angry person gets the wrong meaning from words.

GO EASY ON ARGUMENT AND CRITICISM. This puts others on the defensive and they may “clam up” or get angry. Don’t argue. even if you win, you lose.

ASK PERTINENT QUESTIONS. This is encouraging, shows you are listening, helps to develop points further, and is essential for clarification.

Bonnie Black recently retired from fulltime employment in mental health and is currently a Trainer/Consultant in the North Country, focusing on suicide prevention and intervention trainings. She travels the state providing evidence-based workshops to organizations and individuals interested in keeping their communities suicide-safe. In her role as a personal Intrinsic Coach, her goal is to bring out the best in individuals and organizations.

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