Listening, Attention, Empathy, Increase Understanding & Paraphrase Both Content


Garson do you have an extra key to the document cabinet I misplaced mine and I have to get into it right away. No I don’t have a key but it doesn’t matter because I can’t believe it. When I left home this morning. I was sure I had it. Bart it’s OK

I pulled out my keys but of course I just had my car key and main door key I always carry two sets keys

Bart. I’ve been trying to tell you just try the”….

It’s just like me I think I’ve got  everything, but just before I check the last time sue will say something to me and I get  sidetracked. Then I just take off”.

“Bart, calm down. The doors…”

“Clam down? If I can”t  get those documents to the meeting there”s going to be hall to pay We’ve got six people coming form all over the city just to look at the documents. What am I supposed to say them?

“Bart you don’t have to say anything I’ve be trying to ….”

Oh, sure just just go in there and say, “By be way, the documents are locked up in the cabinet and I lift my key at home.” Come on, Garson who’s got the other key?”

“Bart Listen I’ve been trying to tell you Miller was in the cabinet and knowing you’d be along in a minute, he lift the door open.”

“Well, why didn’t  you tell me?”

Are you a good listener even when you are’ under pressure like Bart? Or do you sometimes find that your mind wanders when others are talking to you? Listening, “the process of receiving, attending to, and assigning meaning to aural and visual stimuli” (Wolvin & Coakley, 1996, p. 69), is a fundamental skill that affects the quality of our conversations in social and business settings. Despite the importance of listening, many of us do not listen as well as we need to. In this chapter, we will consider the concepts of attending, understanding, remembering, evaluating and responding.


Attending is the perceptual process of selecting and focusing on specific stimuli from the countless stimuli reaching the senses. Recall from that we attend to information that interests us and’ meets physical and psychological needs But to be a good listener, we have to train ourselves to attend to what people’ are saying regardless of our interest or needs. Let’s consider three techniques for consciously focusing attention.

1. Get physically and mentally ready to listen. Physically, good listeners adopt a listening posture. For instance, when good listeners have been told that the next bit of information will be on the test, they are likely to sit upright their chairs, lean slightly forward, cease any extraneous physical movement, and look directly at the professor. Like wise, mentally they will focus their attention by blocking out miscellaneous thoughts that pass through then minds. Although what you thinking about may be more pleasant to attend to than what someone is saying tv you, yet.! must compel yourself to focus on what is being said.

Of course, sometimes you afford without much intensity. People often speak of “vegging out in front of the tube,” which usually means “listening” to comedy or light drama as a means of passing time pleasurably. Unfortunately, many people approach all situations as if they were listening to pass time.

2. Make the shift from speaker to listener a complete one. Unlike the classroom, where you are supposed to listen continuously for long stretches, in conversation you are called on to switch back and forth from speaker to listener so frequently that you may find it difficult at times to make these shifts completely. If, instead of listening, you spend your time rehearsing what you are going to say as soon as you have a chance, your listening effectiveness will take a nosedive, Especially when you are in a heated conversation, take second to check yourself are you preparing speeches instead of listening? Shifting from the role of speaker to that of listener requires constant and continuous effort.

3. Hear a person out before you react.Far too often we stop listening before the person has finished speaking because we know” what a person is going to say, yet our “knowing” is really only a guess. Accordingly, the habit of always letting a person complete his or her thought before you stop listening or try to respond.

In addition to prematurely ceasing to listen, we often let a person’s mannerisms and words “turn us off.” For instance, we may become annoyed when a speaker mutters, stammers, or talks in a monotone. Like wise, we may let a  language or ideas turn us off. Are there any words or ideas that create bursts of semantic noise for you, causing you to stop listening attentively? For instance, do you have a tendency to react negatively or tune out when people speak of gay rights, skinheads, welfare frauds, political correctness, or rednecks? To counteract this effect,


Understanding is decoding a message accurately by assigning appropriate meaning to it. Sometimes we do not understand because people use words that are outside our vocabulary or are used in a way that we do not recognize. Fully understanding what a person means. listen to ensure your understanding, including empathizing, asking questions, and paraphrasing


Empathy is intellectually identifying with or vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. When we empathize, we are attempting to understand or experience what another understands or experiences. To do this, generally, we try to put aside our own feelings, thoughts, and attitudes and to “try on the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of another and responding appropriately. Three approaches people use when empathizing are empathic responsiveness, perspective taking and sympathetic responsiveness (Weaver & Kirtley, 1995, p. 131).

Empathic responsiveness occurs when you experience an emotional response parallel to, and as a result of observing, another person’s actual or anticipated display of emotion (Stiff et al., 1988, p. 199). For instance, when Monique tells Heather that Brad broke off their engagement, Heather will have used empathic responsiveness if she senses the sadness that Monique is feeling and experiences a similar sense of loss.

Perspective taking imagining yourself in the place of another-is the most common form of empathizing (Zillmann, 1991). For example, if Heather personalize the message by picturing herself being told that her engagement is off, anticipates and experiences her own emotions were this to occur, and then assumes that Monique must be feeling the same way, Heather is exemplifying perspective taking.

Sympathetic responsiveness is your feeling concern, compassion, or sorrow for another because of the other’s situation or plight, The sympathetic responsiveness approach differs from the other two approaches in that you do not attempt to experience the feelings of the other. Rather, you translate your intellectual understanding of what the speaker has experienced into your own feelings of concern, compassion, or sorrow for that person. For instance, imagine that Heather that Monique is sad and disappointed, but instead of try tag feel emotions or experience how she herself would feel in a situation. Heather feels concern and compassion for her friend. This is a sympathetic response. Because of this difference in perspective, scholars differentiate sympathy from empathy.

Although people vary in their ability to empathize, most of us should learn to increase our empathy and then decide to practice it. Those of us who are overly oriented find it especially difficult to see the world from another’s point of view. As a result, our ability to empathize is often underdeveloped. Under these circumstances may need to exert extra effort to develop empathizing skills if we are to increase our interpersonal effectiveness.

Though it may seem trite, the first step in improving our empathizing is to take the time and make the effort to respect the person who is speaking. This does not mean that we need to have a deep, personal relationship with others to empathize with them. Respect means that we pay serious attention to what others are saying and what they feel about what they are saying. It begins by treating a person as.a with value and not as an object. Respecting others focuses our time and energy on the other, not on the self.

How well you empathize also depends on how observant you are of others’ behavior and how clearly you read” the nonverbal messages they are sending. To improve your observational skills, try the following. When another person begins a conversation with you develop the habit of silently posing two questions to yourself: (1) What emotions do I believe the person is experiencing right now? and (2) What are the cues the person is giving that I am using to draw this conclusion? Consciously asking these questions helps you focus your attention on the nonverbal aspects of messages; this is where most of the information on the person’s emotional state is conveyed.

To further increase the accuracy of reading emotions, you can use the skill of perception checking especially when the other person’s culture is different from your own. Remember, cultures vary in how and how much is expr cssvd nonverbally. Once you have understood the emotions the other person is feeling, you can then choose the type of empathic response you wish to use.

To become more effective at empathizing with another, (1) adopt an attitude 9(respect toward the person, (2) concentrate on understanding the nonverbal as well as the verbal messages, (3) use behavioral cues to ascertain his or her emotional state, (4) try to. feel with the person, (or) try to recall or imagine how you would feel in similar circumstances, (or) try to understand what the person is feeling to help yourself experience your own feelings of concern, compassion, or sorrow for that person. Finally, (5) respond in a way that reflects those feelings.

For additional information on empathy and listening, log on to, an empathy and listening skills home page by Lawrence Bookbinder, Ph.D., and Fellow of the American Psychological Association.


Active listeners are willing to question to help them’ get the information they need to understand. A question is, of course, a response designed to get further information or to clarify information already received. Although you may have asked questions for as long as you can remember, you may notice that at times your questions either don’t get the information you want or irritate, fluster, or cause defensiveness. We can increase the chances that our questions will get us the information we want and reduce negative reactions if we observe these guidelines:

1. Note the kind of information you need to increase your understanding. Suppose Maria says to you, “I am totally frustrated. Would you stop at the on the way home and buy me some more paper?” At this point, you may be a bit confused and need more information to understand what Maria is asking you. Yet if you respond “What do you mean?” you are likely to add to the confusion. Maria, who is already uptight, will probably not know precisely what it is you do not understand. To increase your understanding, you might ask Maria one these three types of questions:

• Questions to get more information on important details. “What kind of paper would you like me to get and how much will you need?”
Questions to clarify the use of a term. “Could you tell me what you mean by frustrated?”
Questions to clarify the cause of the feelings the person is expressing. “What’s frustrating you?”

Determine whether the information you need is more detail clarification of a word or idea or information on the cause of feelings or events then phrase your question accordingly.

2. Phrase questions as complete sentences. Under pressure our tendency is to use one- or two word questions that may be perceived as curt or abrupt. For instance, when Miles says “Molly just told me that I always behave in ways that are totally insensitive to her needs” instead of asking “How?” you might ask, “Did she give you specific behaviors or describe specific incidents when this happened?” Curt, abrupt questions often seem to challenge the speaker instead of focusing on the kind of information the respondent needs to understand the statement. By phrasing more complete question the questioner shows the respondent that he or she has been heard.

3. Monitor your nonverbal cues so that they convey genuine interest and concern. Ask questions with a tone of voice that is sincere not a tone that could be interpreted as bored, sarcastic, cutting, superior, dogmatic, or evaluative. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the way we speak may be even more important than the words we use.

4. Put the “burden of ignorance” on your own shoulders. To minimize defensive reactions, especially when people are under, stress, phrase your questions to put the burden of ignorance on your own shoulders by prefacing your question with a short statement that suggests that any problem of misunderstanding may be the result of your listening skills. For instance, when Drew says, “I’ve really had it with Malone screwing up all the time” you might say, Drew, I’m sorry I’m missing some details that would help me understand your feelings better what kinds of things has Malone been doing?

Here are two more examples that contrast inappropriate with more appropriate questioning responses.

Tamara: “They turned down my proposal again!”
Art: [Inappropriate] “Well, did you explain it the way you should have?”
(This question is a veiled attack on Tamara in question form.)
[Appropriate] “Did they tell you why?” (This question is a sincere request for additional information.)

Renee: “With all those executives at the party last night, I really felt strange.”

Javier: [Inappropriate] “Why?” (With this abrupt question, Javier is making no effort to be sensitive to Renee’s feelings or to understand them.)
[Appropriate] “Gee, what is it about your bosses presence that makes you feel strange?” (Here the question is phrased to elicit information that will help Javier understand and it may help Renee understand as well.)

In summary, to increase your effectiveness at asking questions, (1) note the kind of information you need to increase your understanding of the message, (2) phrase specific, complete sentence questions that focus on getting that information, (3) deliver them in a sincere tone of voice, and (4) in stressful situations put the burden of ignorance on your own shoulders.


In addition to being skilled questioners, active listeners are also adept at paraphrasing putting their understanding of the message into words. For example during a meeting with his professor to discuss his performance on the first exam, Charley says Well, it looks like I really blew this first test I had a lot of things on my mind If Professor Jensen responds by saying If I understand you. correctly there were things happening to you that took your mind away from studying,” she would be paraphrasing.

Paraphrases may focus on content on feelings underlying the content or on both. In the previous example the professor’s paraphrase If I understand you correctly, there were things happening to you that took your mind away from studying” is a content paraphrase. It focuses on the denotative meaning of the message. As Charley began to speak, if Professor Jensen noticed that he dropped his eyes, sighed and slowly shook his head and she said, “So you were pretty upset with your grade on the last test, her response would be a feelings paraphrase that is, a response that captures the emotions attached to the content of the message.

In real life settings, we often don’t distinguish clearly between content and feelings paraphrases and our responses might well be a combination of both. All three types of paraphrases for the same statement are shown in this example:

Statement: “Five weeks ago I gave the revised manuscript of my independent study to my project adviser. I felt really good about it because I thought the changes I had made really improved my explanations. Well yesterday I stopped by and got the manuscript back and my adviser said he couldn’t really see that this draft was much different from the first.”

Content paraphrase: “Let me see if I’m understanding this right. Your adviser thought that you hadn’t really done much to rework your paper, but you put a lot of effort into it and think this draft was a lot different and much improved.”

Feelings paraphrase: I sense that you are really frustrated that your adviser did not recognize the changes you had made.”

Combination: “If I have this right, you’re saying that your adviser could see no real differences, yet you think your draft was not only different but much improved. I also get the feeling that your adviser’s comments really irk you.”

In addition to paraphrasing when you need a better understanding of a message you will also want to consider paraphrasing when the message is long and contains several complex ideas, when it seems to have been said under emotional strain or when you are talking with people for whom English is not their native language.

In summary, to paraphrase is effectively, (1) listen carefully to the message, (2) notice what images and feelings you have experienced from the message (3) determine what the message means to you, and (4) create a message that conveys these images or feelings.

Remembering: Retaining Information

Remembering is being able to retain information and recall it when needed. Too often we forget almost immediately what we have heard. For instance, you can probably think of many times when you were unable to recall the name of a person to whom you were introduced just moments earlier. Three techniques that are likely to work for you in improving your ability to remember information are repeating constructing mnemonics and taking notes.

Repeat Information

Repetition saying something two, three, or even four times-helps listeners store information in long term memory by providing necessary reinforcement (Estes, 1989, p. 7). If information is not reinforced, it will be held in short term memory for as little as twenty seconds and then forgotten. So, when you are introduced to a stranger named Jack McNeil, if you mentally say “Jack McNeil, Jack McNeil, Jack McNeil, Jack McNeil, you increase the chances that you will remember his name. Like wise when a person gives you the directions, Go two blocks east, turn left turn right at the next light, and it’s in the next block,” you should immediately repeat to yourself, “two blocks east, turn left, turn right at light, next block that’s two blocks east, turn left, turn right at light, next block.”

Construct Mnemonics

Constructing mnemonics helps listeners put information in forms that are more easily recalled. A mnemonic device is any artificial technique used as a memory aid. One of the most common ways of forming a mnemonic is to take the first letters of a list of items you are trying to remember and form a word. For example, an easy mnemonic for remembering the five Great Lakes is HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

When you want to remember items in a sequence, try to form a sentence with the words themselves or assign words using the first letters of the words in sequence and form an easy-to-remember statement. For example, when you studied music the first time you may have learned the lines of the treble clef with the good my for the spaces of the treble clef (FACE), you may have remembered the word face.

Take Notes

Although note taking would be inappropriate, in most casual interpersonal encounters, it represent a powerful tool for increasing our recall of information when we are involved in telephone conversations, briefing sessions, interviews, business meetings and listening to speeches. Note taking provides us with a written record we can go back to and it also enables us to take a more active role in the listening process (Wolvin & Coakley, 1996, p. 239). In short, when you are listening to complex information, take notes.

What constitutes good notes will vary depending on the situation. Useful notes may consist of a brief list of main points or key ideas plus a few of the most significant details. Or they may be a short summary of the entire concept (a type of paraphrase) after the message is completed. For lengthy and rather detailed information, however, good notes likely will consist of a brief outline of what the speaker has said, including the overall idea, the main points of the message and key developmental material. Good notes are not necessarily very long.