ipc1Improve Your Listening Skills

Listening is one of the most important skills for a missionary. Authentic obedience that leads to growth and transformation in a person requires the capacity to listen. (obedience from Latin ob+audire). There are four-fold listening:

  • Listen to God
  • Listen to one’s inner self
  • Listen to others
  • Listen to the signs of the times.

A transformative formation process needs to promote the capacity of listening in the formandi. In fact, all of us spend a lot of time listening. Listening occupies more time than any other communication activity. A missionary who is a good listener makes a big difference for the people in need. People listen to others for enjoyment, for information, for direction or to give help. Good listening skills support enjoyable community life and effective ministry in the mission.

I.  Real listening and Pseudo listening

 Real Listening: when you really want to listen to someone for the following motives:

  • to understand someone
  • to enjoy someone
  • learn something
  • give help or solace

Pseudo listening: when you listen for the following motives:

  1. Making people think you are interested so that they will like you
  2. Being alert to see if you are in danger of getting rejected
  3. Listening for one specific piece of information and ignoring all else
  4. Buying time to prepare your next comment
  5. Half listening so someone will listen to you
  6. Listening to to take advantage of someone else’s vulnerabilities
  7. Looking for the weak points in an argument so you can always be right, listening to get ammunition for attack.
  8. Checking to see how people are reacting, making sure you produce the desired effect.
  9. Half listening because a good, kind or nice person would.

Half listening because you don’t know how to get away without hurting someone.

II. Obstacles to effective listening:

  1. Preoccupation with self: The tendency to become preoccupied with yourself. For example, you may focus on your own performance in the interaction or you rehearse your own response.
  2. Preoccupation with external issues: You focus on matters that irrelevant to your interaction. For example, you think what you did last day or your plan to go for a party etc.
  3. Sharpening: One or two aspects of the message is highlighted and embellished. You may focus on some incidental remarks in the conversation.
  4. Assimilation: It is the tendency to reconstruct messages so they reflect your own attitudes, prejudices and needs. For example, if you have certain negative attitude to an institution, a neutral commend about their activity may be commended by you, “they are going to end up miserable”. Here you transmit your own negative evaluation to others.ipc4
  5. The friend-or-foe factor. It can distort messages because of our attitude to another person. For example, if you think Tom is stupid, it will require added effort to listen to Tom’s messages objectively.
  6. Hearing what is expected: When we listen we often drift in and out of speakers messages. We may fail to hear the speaker’s messages and instead hear what we expect. You know that Teena often complains about others. When she began to say about her difficulty in the ward, you automatically hear her complaining again about others.
  7. The law of least effort: It means that given a choice, you will take the part of least resistance. You listen to messages that requires very little effort to understand and interpret. For example, one may prefer a TV program to a lecture.

III. Check your listening blocks

Here is a list of activities which act as listening blocks when you listen to others. Check those in the list that are present in your behavior:

  1. Comparing: You are on the look out who is better or smarter or who suffered more: you or other. “ I do better than that”.
  2. Mind reading: Here, one tries to figure out what the other person is really thinking and feeling. “He thinks he can outshine all of us”. “She thinks I am stupid”.
  3. Rehearsing: You are preparing what you have to say. You have to look interested, but your mind is busy forming what you want to say.
  4. Filtering: You listen to something and not to others. You pay attention to see if someone is angry or unhappy, or if you are in emotional danger. For example, a mother listens to her son just enough to find if he is fighting in the school. Relieved to hear he isn’t. she begins to think about the shopping list. Another filtering is in not hearing certain things especially when it is threatening, negative, critical or unpleasant.
  5. Judging: If you prejudge someone as stupid or nuts, you don’t pay attention to what they say. You have written them off. Judgments have to be made only after you have heard the person.
  6. Dreaming: In half listening something the other says triggers a chain of private associations. When the other says he is scolded by boss, you think of the time you were scolded for reaching late. You were with a family that was suffering from a tragedy….. You may dream when you feel bored or anxious. But it says you don’t value what the other has to say.
  7. Identifying: You take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own experience. For example, when a friend tells about his tooth ache, you remember your oral surgery and you start saying your story.. Everything you hear reminds you of something you have experienced.
  8. Advising: You become the great problem solver than a listener and you are ready with your help and suggestions. You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences, before you begin searching for your solutions. While you are busy convincing the other to “just try it”, you don’t hear the other’s feelings. You may fail to listen and be there for that person.
  9. Sparring: You argue and debate and the other person may not feel heard because you are quick to disagree. Your focus is on finding things to disagree with. Put-down is a form of sparring. You use sarcastic language to dismiss the other persons point of view. Discounting is another way of sparring. It happens when you can’t stand   compliments. Oh, I did not do anything”. You don’t listen to other’s appreciation. The way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you have heard. Look for one thing you agree with.
  1. Being Right: You go to any length (twist facts, shouting, bring excuses) to avoid being wrong. Since you won’t acknowledge that your mistakes are mistakes, you just keep making them.
  2. Derailing: Sudden change of subject. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with the topic. e.g., joking it off.
  3. Placating: You want to be nice, pleasant and supportive. You agree with everything. So you say, “Right.. absolutely, I know, Of course you are..”. You are half listening   rather than tuning in and examining what is said.

Identify the blocks that apply to you most. Find out some examples from life and share with a companion.

IV. Effective Listening

 Listening effectively vary from situation to situation. The different modes of listening suit different communication situations. The following are the four steps to effective listening:

1. Active listening:

Listening requires your active participation. To understand the meaning of what is communicated, you have to ask questions and give feed back. It is in a give and take process that you get fuller appreciation of what is being communicated. Active listening includes the following aspects:


It is to state in your own words what you think the other person said. It keeps you trying to understand and know what the other means. Use lead-ins like:

         “What I hear you saying is …” or “ Do you mean….”

         “In other words” or “So basically how you felt was..”

Paraphrasing should be objective. It should express an understanding of the speaker’s feelings. Expressing feelings gives the speaker an opportunity to view them more objectively.

Advantages of paraphrasing:

  • People appreciate feeling heard
  • It stops escalating anger and cools down crisis
  • Stops miscommunication. false assumptions, errors, misinterpretation is corrected on the spot.
  • Helps you remember what was said.
  • When you paraphrase, it is difficult to judge, rehearse, spar, advise, derail etc.
  • Clarifying: It is asking questions until you get a better picture. If you want to understand what is being said, you have to ask for more information. It helps you to sharpen your listening focus. It lets the other person know that you are interested.


In feed back you share in a nonjudgmental way what you thought, felt, or sensed. It is sharing what happened inside you. To check perceptions, you transform what you saw and heard into a tentative description as follows:

“I want to understand your feeling (give description)Is this the way you feel?”

“ Listening to what you said, I wonder if (your description) this is want is really happening in the situation”.

Feedback helps the other person understand the effect of his/her communication. It is another chance to correct errors or misconceptions. On the basis of feed back the speaker may or may not adjust, strengthen, emphasize or change the content of form of the messages.

 Four qualities of effective feedback

  1. Immediacy: as soon as you fully understand the communication. Late feedback is less valuable.
  2. Honesty: Your real reaction to the message. You don’t have to cut somebody up to give your reaction. In fact brutality is rarely honest. It should be honest and supportive. “I get the feeling that there is something you are not telling me”. Or “I think there is a real possibility that you have made a mistake”. Do not be ashamed or afraid to admit that you did not understand a message, and do not hesitate to disagree.
  3. Appropriateness: appropriate to communication situation. Distinguish between feedback to the message and feedback to the speaker.
  4. Clarity: It should be clear. It should reflect the message and not your mood or personal biases. It should also be clear in meaning. If it is in agreement or disagreement to speaker.
 Effective Reception of feedback

It requires humility and honesty to respond well to a feedback. Qualities of effective receiving of feedback:

  • Sensitivity: to perceive feedback in situations where it normally goes unnoticed. e.g. non verbal forms as puzzled face, wide smile.
  • Supportive: Support the person giving feedback in order to avoid or to suspend defensiveness. Defensiveness is taken as a sign to stop feedback. In that case you stand to lose a great deal of insight that you might have otherwise gained. We assume that the persons giving feedback does so with your betterment in mind.
  • Open-mindedness: Listen to feedback with an open mind. If feedback is negative and affects esteem, it is all the more difficult. Evaluate what is said, accept what seems reasonable and useful, and reject what seems unreasonable and useless. But make these decisions after you have fully listened and understood what is said.
  • Specificity: When listening to feedback, translate it into specific, preferably behavioral terms. Think of what it can mean to your own behaviour.

2. Listening with Openness:

It is difficult to listen when you judge and find fault with the other. Though judgments can be very gratifying, you have more to lose:

  •  If your opinions are proven wrong, you are the last one to know.
  •  You don’t grow intellectually because you listen only to the view points already held.
  • You dismiss otherwise worthwhile people because you disagree with their ideas.
  • You turn people off because you spar and don’t listen.
  • You miss important information.

We have trouble to listen openly. We don’t want to hear our sacred cow reduced to a hamburger. We don’t want to believe that an unlikable person has said something worth thinking about.

Fear of being can lead to many difficulties. We may equal being wrong with being stupid, bad or worthless. It is a great step forward if beliefs and opinions are seen as temporary hypothesis-held until disproved or modified.

In order to listen with openness you have to hear the whole statement before judging.ipc3

3. Listening with Empathy

 Listening with empathy means to understand the other person’s point of view and understand why he/she behaves so. Your ability to listen goes down when someone is angry, criticizes or wallows in self pity. Observe the struggle of the person to protect himself and see his perspective of the issue. Ask the following when empathy is difficult.

  • From which need is the anger or sadness arising?.
  • What danger is this person experiencing?
  • What is he/she asking for?

4. Listening with Awareness

There are two ways to grow in your capacity to listen with awareness:- 1. you may integrate the message to what you already know in order to improve your understanding of the whole picture. 2. to hear and observe congruence. Does a person’s voice, emphasis, facial expression and posture fit with the content for his communication.

Total listening: How to listen with full involvement

People want you to listen. Ways to communicate listening:

  • good eye contact
  • lean forward
  • reinforce the speaker by nodding or paraphrasing.
  • Ask for clarifications
  • Actively move away from distractions
  • Be committed, even if you are angry or upset, to understanding what is said.

Effective listening has rich dividends for your ministry. You get better cooperation and others enjoy working with you.


Initially we have mentionedf different types of listening such as listening to God, self, others and events. Each type of listening requires its own special tuning of our interior faculties. Listening to God calls for interior silence and skills of discernment. Listening to one’s inner self is possible when you have cultivated interiority and self-awareness. Most of what we dealt with in this paper is about listening to others. Listening to the events of life needs wisdom, patience and transcendence. But the fundamental lessons of listening is learnt when you begin to listen to your fellow humans who are visibly present to you.

– Class notes Prepared by Fr. Mathew