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Communication skills

Techniques for active listening

MirroringThis means to repeat back phrases or words that the speaker uses. This shows the speaker that you have listened and it gives them a sense of recognition.
ParaphrasingThis means to rephrase or restate what you have heard in your own words to ensure that you have understood the content of the message. It gives the speaker an opportunity to elaborate on or clarify what he/she is saying and might stimulate greater objectivity by the speaker.
SummarisingSummarising involves pulling together the main elements of the discussion and organising them so that they can be reviewed, confirmed or corrected.

Listening Practice Training Exercise

You can use this exercise with a group of students or student representatives to help them think about the value of closed and open questions.
Split the group into pairs, A & B. A’s are listeners, B’s are speakers. Take B’s out of the room and explain to them that they are to talk about something they’re really interested in for 3 minutes. Separately, inform the A’s that whilst they are listening to their partner, every time B says something that makes them want to join in the conversation or ask a question, they put their hand up for five seconds then put it back down. Ask them to do this for the entire conversation. A’s are not allowed to interact with B’s other than to look at them.
At the end of the three minutes, ask the B’s how they felt whilst talking to A, emotions evoked, etc. Ask the A’s what it felt like not to get actively involved in the conversation.

Questioning practice training exercise

You can use this exercise with a group of students or student representatives to help them think about the value of closed and open questions.
You will need:
  • Copies of two different pictures or photos.
Split the group into pairs and give one of each pair a picture so only they can see it. One of the pair sees the picture but it is the other person who must draw it based on information they get from the person who has seen the picture. The person describing it can only respond to closed questions and should not provide any additional information.
The people that are sketching should draw what they think is in Drawing 1 as closely as they can based on the answers to the closed questions asked. Get everyone to compare their images with each other and the source drawing and follow with a discussion.
Swap the roles of the pairs and this time the person drawing can only ask open questions.
Get everyone to compare their images with each other and the source drawing and follow with a discussion.

Tips for facilitators

Here are some essential points to bear in mind when you facilitate discussions.
Stay on timeThe time you will have for the session will not be as long as you would like and you will have a lot of things to fit in. You will need to involve the other panel members in the questioning and ensure that everyone gets the chance to speak. Remember to use closed questioning to draw questioning to an end.
Stay neutralA s a member of the review team it is important to stay neutral but it is particularly important for facilitators to ensure that they are not perceived as being biased.
FocusIt will help if you stick to the agenda. Use your questioning skills to bring people back to the point if they go astray and do not be afraid of (politely) reminding them of the original question.
Stimulate and encourage responsesIt is your responsibility as a facilitator to ensure that everyone feels comfortable to participate. This is especially important when talking to the student group, as some students might not feel comfortable to speak in front of a group. Do your best to make sure that the environment is conducive to students feeling comfortable talking. Your listening and questioning skills will be valuable here.
RegulateTry to avoid letting the same people speak all the time, you need to get an input as broad as possible. As facilitator you are responsible for managing the discussion and should ensure everyone that wants to contribute can do so.


Tips for an effective communication

  • Keep good eye contact during conversations.
  • Be aware of your body language. Try to keep it open to show that you are interested.
  • Avoid negative mannerisms.
  • Be attentive. Try nodding, smiling or making small agreeing noises.
  • Keep an open mind to what you are hearing.
  • Do not interrupt to impose your solutions on the speaker.
  • Clarify your understanding with the speaker.
  • Pay attention to the response and let the person completely finish what they have to say.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues, e.g. signs of discomfort or tension.
  • Speak slowly and clearly and be consistent.
  • Take notes and clarify any points that have not been understood.