September 08, 2011

5 Effective Listening Skills for Small Groups

Leadership Series

Five Effective Listening Skills for Small Groups

Communication is more than stating thoughts; 
it involves active listening.

When we listen, we take in information while remaining non-judgmental. Effective listening invites the speaker to continue. If we are formulating thoughts in our mind while another person is speaking, we are not listening.
As a leader, it's important to be a good listener, so I'm learning to develop and encourage the following basic skills for effective listening among small groups: 
  • Listen carefully to the full response of the group member.
  • Look at group member as they are speaking.
  • Acknowledge the speaker in a way that invites them to continue. (e.g., smile, nod, leaning forward)
  • Listen to understand and be respectful of their thoughts.
  • Permit one person to speak at a time.
But how do you teach and demonstrate these skills to the group as a whole? Here's what I do.
Bring a beach ball to the first gathering. With everyone seated, I explain that I'm going to throw the ball to a certain person. When she has the ball, I'll ask her a question, and she will answer while holding the ball. Once her answer is complete, she throws the ball back to me, and if anyone would like to respond, I throw the ball to them, they offer their response while the rest of us listen. Then they can throw the ball back to me or to another person who wishes to respond.
This simple activity has proven to be a helpful tool in demonstrating good listening skills. I usually begin with a simple question like, "Is Christianity hard or easy?" I toss the ball to the person who answers first, and it could be tossed back to me or to someone else in the group while they ask that person the same question)
Go around the group again (and not always in sequence) asking them to answer the following question. Be sure they know to “pass” the ball if they don't want to share at that moment.
Next, I ask, "What made you answer yes or no to the question, "Is Christianity hard or easy?"
I toss them the ball, and it could be tossed back to me or to someone else in the group while they ask that person the same question. 
The beach ball analogy is an engaging way to reinforce the five listening skills.
  • When someone has the ball it is their time to speak. (#5) 
  • We give our attention by looking at them (#2) and listening (#1) to understand. (#4)
  • We show that we respect their thoughts and want them to continue. (#3)
Hearing the heart of others begins with effective listening skills. We all want to be heard, and practicing good communication skills makes the most of our time in a small group

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