Change Implementation Techniques for Laying a Foundation for New Ways

Technique 1.7 Supportive Listening

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. Supportive listening enhances understanding

"...The world is seen through many eyes, not just our own..."

Michael Black as quoted by Mathew Coghlan, 2006

. It is listening to get people talking; it is an important competency in communications

. Supportive listening is associated with becoming mindful.

"...Mindful means learning how to observe and be detached from extraneous thoughts, allowing for a stiller, clearer consciousness that leads to less distraction and more presence. Being mindful does not mean having a 'full' mind. Rather, it is sometimes defined as 'paying attention without judgment', and includes encouraging a focus on the present moment (as opposed to allowing the mind to be preoccupied with the past or planning the future)..."

Amanda Sinclair, 2007a

. You have 2 eyes, 2 ears and 1 mouth ‐ use them in that ratio!!!!!!!!!

. Furthermore, listening is not waiting for your turn to talk

There is a difference between listening and hearing

hearing is a physical process which is passive, ie the ears are working

listening is active and involves behaviours, such as being alert and focused. This involves non‐verbal responses, such as eye contact, alert expression and attentive posture. But be careful with these behavioural components as over‐focus on them can result in fake listening, ie using the observable, recognised listening behaviours and pretending to listen

One of the important parts of listening is appearing non‐judgmental

. Reflective listening ‐ playing back explicit understandings of what someone has said to us. This allows validation of the comprehended message, and reassures the speaker that his/her point is understood and taken seriously

"...Listening to people helps them pour out a little of the current thinking so they can make room for new thinking. There are even times when listening does all the work. When you deeply listen to someone, they listen to themselves and sometimes that alone is enough to change their minds..."

Annette Simmons, 2002


"...listening lets them express the cynicism, resentments and hopelessness that they usually hide because they don't want to sound irrational or like they "aren't a team player". Done properly, listening encourages them to mine beneath their public fade of rational reasoning. They can reveal and examine the true source of their behaviours..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

. Research has shown

"...listening skills account for about a third of people's evaluation of whether or not someone they work with is an effective communicator. Active listening skills build rapport between people, create a positive climate for revealing important information and create an effective influence base. Active listening provides you with the information you need to gain the willing co‐operation of others and allows you to confer a situation before you waste time and effort attempting to solve the wrong issue......people who feel understood take more responsibility for themselves and are......less defensive..."

Martyn Newman, 2007


"...there is really no substitute for positive face‐to‐face interactions. Leaders create a trusting environment by the example they set through listening. If you want people to trust you, and if you want to build a climate of trust in your organisation, the listening‐to‐talk ratio has to be favour of listening. People need to feel that their voices count..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

. Elements of effective (supportive) listening involve creating a safe environment so that speakers can admit to their true feelings to help them make room for the new ideas, and/or acting a sounding board, etc. Some elements revolve around paying attention by

‐ giving your physical attention by listening to their story

(NB most communication is non‐verbal ‐ for more details, see later on in this Volume

‐ absence of tension, ie create a relaxed and productive atmosphere

‐ maintain active eye contact, ie look directly at the other person when they speak as this is a good way of showing interest and also picking up another person's facial messages.

‐ lean towards whoever is talking, ie supportive, non‐verbal responses

tone, volume and verbal responses create an emotional atmosphere, ie if you mimic the tone, etc of the person you are talking to, he or she will be more likely to feel understood

‐ active silence, ie before replying, pause (for a perhaps 2 ‐3 seconds) to consider the speaker's ideas before responding. This is like pressing a pause button.

‐ "tell me more", ie supportive, non‐verbal responses, such as facial expressions, gestures, nods, etc

‐ repeat in the same form, ie to demonstrate that you are listening and check that you have understood them. This is a way of providing feedback, ie repeat some of their words and involve yourself overtly with their feelings and thought processes, ie

"...feeding back what has been understood is flattering to the speaker, who wants to know if his or her message has been received..."

Edward deBono, 2005

‐ open posture with acceptable personal space, ie no threatening postures such as crossing your arms

‐ noise control, ie reduce any noise interference

‐ square off, ie face each other

‐ show patience

‐ be prepared to offer a warm smile, nod your head to indicate listening

‐ offer verbal encouragement, such as repeating the prominent word or the last word of a sentence just spoken, maintaining and inquiring tone of voice that invites clarification, using the following brief affirming words





"...I hear you..."

Active Listening

"...the average person thinks at 90 words per minute, or as much as 1500 words for the super-smart people. But we can only talk at 150 words a minute. Not only are non-verbal cues crucial......there's only a 11% chance we say what we really mean on the first go..."
Oscar Trimboli as quoted by James Thomson 2020

Some tips to improve active listening
- don't get distracted by electronic devices
- help the speaker express themselves by using silence (which invites them to speak) or use a simple phrase like 'tell me more'
- listen for context, not content, ie
"...focus on content in listening so they can spot a problem, fix it and move on. But in doing this, you risk missing the patterns that give the bigger picture..."
James Thomson 2020



"...Influence comes from paying attention to those you wish to influence..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

"...Listening does not mean not speaking..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

On the other hand, some signs of inattention include

signs of fatigue or boredom, such as yawning

not maintaining eye contact, ie continually looking away or down

‐ is passing premature judgment including rebuttal, reassurances and advice

following your own agenda

. Some supportive listening approaches or lead‐ins suggested by Manfred Kets de Vries (2006) and Martyn Newman (2007):

paraphrasing, eg

" I understand it........"

"...what you're saying is......."

"...if I could summarise....."

" sounds like...."

reflect on the implications

"...would that mean that............"

"...are you saying that............"

"...what you seem to be saying is..."

", what I'm hearing is..."

"...would that help with..........."

"...I am with you..."

‐ invite contributions

"...what happened then?..."

"...can you give me an example?..."

"...tell me more about...."

"...please go on..."

" that right?..."

‐ reflect on the underlying feelings

"...if that happened to me, I'd be upset....."

"...I suppose that must make you annoyed..............."

" did that make you feel?..."

"...that must have been satisfying....."

" are concerned..."

NB The reflective response is an important part of listening, ie

"...In reflective response, the listener restates the content of what the person said in a way that demonstrates understanding and acceptance. Before rushing to respond to what a person has said, it is often helpful to paraphrase what is it you think you've heard. A good paraphrase is concise, reflects only the content of the speaker's message, and involves using the speaker's words without parroting them. Paraphrasing not only reduces the chance of a misunderstanding occurring, but also suggests that you have paid careful attention and taken the person seriously..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

While paraphrasing, your voice should reflect an inquiring tone

. Questions are an important part of listening, ie a question is worth a 1,000 words

There are 2 different types of questions, ie closed and open‐ended. A closed question is one that invites a "yes or no" answer, while with an open‐ended question, the response must be an explanation of some sort. If you know exactly what you want to check on, then a closed question is appropriate. On the other hand, if you require more information, the open‐ended question is more suitable.

It is better to ask open‐ended questions as they are more thought‐provoking than closed ones, ie

"...they provide an express and explore......ideas, allowing the listener to take an active interest in what the other has to say..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

Usually open questions involve clarification and begin with:

"who...?, where...?, why....?, how....?

For example,

"...what is your view?..."

By asking questions you are showing attention and interest

"...questions......allow for further exploration of the points. They permit the clarification of any misunderstanding. They enable the speaker to elaborate on points which seem to be of interest to the listener. They can be used to check up on things..."

Edward deBono, 2005


"...questions are a key means of interaction in any conversation or discussion. A listener should seek to ask questions. A question is a way of directing attention to some matter. A question is a polite way of demanding something.......A person asked a question may give the answer, not know the answer, guess or challenge the question. Questions are essential to challenge validity and the source of information that is being used to support the arguments. Questions are also vital to ask for more details and elaboration around a point..."

Edward deBono, 2005

By asking questions you are developing a good relationship and saving time. For example, when hearing strong views being expressed without good reasons, the following questions should be useful:

" may be right, but I'd like to understand more about this; what specifically led you to feel that..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

or if there is a strong negative reaction, you may respond with

"...I may have misunderstood, but when he said......I had the impression you were feeling....if that's true, I'd like to understand what's concerning you about that..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

It is important to suspend your impulse to react promptly, and take a moment to reflect before responding and develop an attitude of curiosity

. Listening allows

"...Groups or individuals to reflect, to examine their thoughts and perceptions for incongruities or trouble spots. Listening has a therapeutic effect that moves people out of a stuck place. Listening is hard......Good listening lets them revisit their story, look behind the conclusions, unravel their own assumptions, and draw new conclusions..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

. Coaching ‐ the essence of coaching is listening ‐ a good coach asks questions as 80% of the job involves helping people become clearer, in their own minds, about things they have to say and do.

. Linked with being a good listener is staying in control of your feelings and approaching the other person in a rational and calm manner. Furthermore,

"...establish direct eye contact and stay in close proximity. Use a neutral tone of voice, not allowing your voice to become too loud. Begin by documenting your position. Acknowledge that you understand something of his position. Communicate your feelings of frustration and anxiety to him in regarding the situation and invite his response. If his response does not acknowledge a problem or a commitment to a solution, reinforce your point of view again ‐ using the ' broken record' approach in which you repeat was it is you want. Finally, work with him to achieve a compromise solution..."

Martyn Newman, 2007

. People with charm are good listeners, ie they make you feel that they have been waiting for your arrival all day. They will know and use your name, hold eye contact and show a high degree of interest in your conversation. Furthermore, they will be less interested in talking about themselves than about you. In addition to listening to your words, they will notice your body language and the background emotions. They will be self‐effacing and will laugh with you; they may hold your hand a little longer than necessary when they shake it. They will make you feel at ease and raise you up in status, ie

"... they impart a quality of attention that would suggest there is something quite unique about you..."

Doris McIlwain as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2009n

People who are very charming are motivated to be liked and will develop their skills by constantly studying other people's reaction to them to determine what works and what doesn't.

Charm and charisma are related. Charisma is the art of getting people to sacrifice something for you, while charm is more about a one‐on‐one relationship.

. In summary

"...a good listener shows that he or she is paying attention to what is being said. A good listener respects the speaker. A good listener shows that he or she is generally interested in what he or she hears. A good listener gets value from what is heard and shows that he or she is getting value..."

Edward deBono, 2005

Furthermore, you know when a person is really listening: his/her body language mirrors the speakers.

(sources: CPEM, 1997; Senge et al, 1999; Annette Simmons, 2002; Edward deBono, 2005; Manfred Kets de Vries, 2006; Martyn Newman, 2007; Rachel Lebihan, 2009; Fiona Smith, 2009n)


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