Four Phases of Listening Well


Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

1)      Understand what the speaker is saying

This applies to the literal content and the personal intentions or meaning on the part of the speaker.  Listen intently to what is being said.  Taking notes will help capture the literal expressions and enable clarification of meaning.  One can then ask clarifying questions.

When as student takes notes in school they focus upon what is being said by the other person.  They are intent on understanding.  They are not concerned with giving the teacher/superior direction.  They are careful to be exact to grasp to meaning that is intended by the speaker.  They would ask questions to clarify their understanding.  They would reflect upon the implications of the information and how it relates to other things that they know.  They would study it later and draw conclusions. This is the exact same process for understanding someone who seeks counsel. 

2)      Clarify the speakers meaning

On page 157 we referred to an aspect contained in parliamentary debate, during the first cross-examination, at which time there are no rebuttal arguments presented.  Rather, one may only ask questions which help to clarify the affirmative speakers meaning.  There is often a confirmation question, which solidifies the understanding.  This is the essence of good listening skills and is at the heart of 95% of counseling interventions.  In a relationship this will greatly reduce anger because each person will feel that the other person is listening and understanding them even if they do not agree. 

The ability to express the speaker’s meaning in reasonable terms and manner fosters the feeling of being understood in the speaker.

3)      Ascertain desire of the speaker

The next critical point is to ascertain what the speaker wants before responding.  The first two phases are the most important and will have the greatest impact upon the speaker.  It will bring the majority of healing and consolation.  However, the most common practical problem lies in responses by the listener, which are inconsistent with the desires of the speaker.  People often understand what the other person is saying but fail to grasp why it is being said and what is wanted.  As a result the response causes problems and produces a sense of misunderstanding.  E.g. Husband, “I understand you.”  Wife, “If you understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t respond that way.”  There are many wonderful and loving responses that are frustrating because they are unnecessary.  Thus the point here is to ask the speaker to state what they want and why they are saying what they have said.  Until this is clear, it is usually unwise to offer a response.  

4)      Respond in conformity with the desire

Once it is understood, one may respond appropriately.  If it is not possible to respond as the speaker desires some discussion or explanation would follow.  A prudent step in this case would be to ask for some time to reflect on the matter.