Basic Communication Skills
Effective listening as a mentor or facilitator involves more than merely being a passive sponge soaking up what the speaker is saying. It involves activity intended at drawing out and drawing out the speaker. Active listening involves paying attention to the four areas of communication:
- the Verbal Message
- the Nonverbal Message
- the Feelings behind the message
- the Implied Meanings within the message
Here are some important things to be aware of when listening to others:
- Pay attention – Concentrate on receiving the message.
- Observe the voice – Is it loud or soft? Relaxed or anxious? Assertive or aggressive?
- Notice the language – Does the speaker speak well? Does s/he use slang from a particular group? Does their language show bias, specific beliefs about themselves or the world? Do they convey feelings?
- Assess the speaker’s patterns – Does the speaker overuse clichés, or popular phrases? Do they repeat themselves, answer their own questions? Interrupt? Contradict their own previous statements?
- Observe the body language – Do they make eye contact? Do you see tension in neck or face? What does their posture show you about their comfort or lack of?
- Listen before you hear – Don’t let your preconceived ideas and evaluations distort your hearing what is really being said? Avoid the tendency to hear what you want to hear.
- Listen to what is said – But listen for content (facts) as well as meaning and feelings.
- Listen to the whole picture – Pay attention to all the above factors separately and then see what you notice in all of them together. The whole message may be more than the separate parts – just the content or just the voice tone.
The following skills can be useful for the peer to implement. They can also be areas they watch for between group members and intervene in judiciously if one member is overwhelming or not being respectful with another group member in one of the ways the following material asks us to avoid.
- Use of Silence
It is essential for a facilitator to become comfortable with allowing silence in his/her meetings with clients. Silence invites the client to take his/her time and feel comfortable talking. When the peer is too directive and controlling, the client may never get to what they want to talk about or they may feel the need to agree with or argue with their peer.
There are times when the use of silence is not helpful. Clients who are anxious may become even more anxious during too much silence. Or, too much silence can cause clients in crisis to feel even more overwhelmed.
- Providing Feedback
It can be useful for a client to hear feedback about how his behavior or communication style may affect other people. The peer can offer feedback about what they hear when the client describes interactions with others or use how they react to the client to give client information. (Example: “I notice that when I am talking you frequently interrupt me. I wonder if that happens in your interactions with other people, too.”)
It is important to not share feedback in a way that the client does not feel responsible for the peer’s feelings or restrict client’s ability to share what they think, feel or do in future. Avoiding feedback that could sound judgmental or blaming is important. It is also important to allow client to disagree with or adjust your feedback.
Reflection is simply mirroring or reflecting back what the person has just said. This can be done in the same words they used or you can use fresh words that match the client’s in intensity, strength. Reflection can help the client hear what they are saying and encourages them to keep talking. Try to use a nonthreatening, supportive reflection that increases client’s comfort level. Try to avoid parroting back client’s exact words or leaping to conclusions /putting words or meaning on client’s communication.
Clarification helps the facilitator verify that s/he has accurately heard what was said or brings out signifigant ideas that have emerged from the conversation. This can be done by asking for specific details about what is said or re-stating what the client has said in a concise, simple manner. It clearly states what the client said only tentatively, vaguely, or left unsaid.
In summarizing, the counselor ties together several ideas previously expressed and feeds them back to the client in a condensed form. This is often helpful at the end of a meeting.
6. Problem –solving
The role of a facilitator is not to actually solve the problem. The client will do that if they choose to. The peer’s role is to help clarify the problem, clarify and explore aspects of the problem so the client can reach their own conclusions.
Problem solving often involves prioritizing – helping a client decide which of several problems they need to address first. It also can include brainstorming options and looking at pro’s and con’s of each option – including how client feels about those options and the possible consequences of the options. The facilitator needs to keep their own values and judgments out of the discussion. Problem-solving can be useful with clients in crisis or who need help building up their coping skills.
Confrontation does not have to mean “hitting” the client with words or ideas in a harsh or blaming manner. Confrontation is most effective when it is done gently after some trust has been built up between counselor and clients. An example of a confrontation would be noticing that client seems to be focusing on changing someone else.