The act of listening is not the same as hearing. When someone is communicating with you, they want to feel like they’re talking to you, rather than at you, and that can only be done with a set of good listening skills and an understanding of the principles of effective communication in general.
Learn how to become an empathetic, attentive, and active listener with the listening skills exercises listed below. You can also review this guide on the numerous components of the listening process for reference, or learn how to improve your general communications skills in one day with this guide.
A Game of Telephone
Telephone might be considered a child’s game, but it’s actually a very useful exercise in communication that those working to improve their own or their team’s listening skills can benefit from greatly. The rules are simple, but altered slightly to shed additional light on the importance of active listening, and how information can become distorted as a result of laziness, inattentiveness, and passivity… all enemies of effective communication.
To start the game, participants should stand in a line, or a circle. One person begins the game by whispering a sentence to the person after them. This sentence should be prepared beforehand, by someone moderating the game, but it should only be known to the person starting the game. The person who received the messages should then whisper it to the person after them, and so on.
By the time it gets to the final person in the group, they should say the message aloud. The first person will read the sentence they were given, and participants can note how much the two have changed. It’s very unlikely, especially in large groups, that the message has not been altered at least a little bit.
The additional rule teams can add to make this exercise more lucid is for each participant to keep a small note card. After they hear the message – not during, but after – they should write down what they heard, and read it to the person next to them. This way, any slight change in the message is down on paper, and the group moderator can post these note cards up in front of the room. Then, the team can study how subtle changes in word use, slight additions or eliminations, can significantly alter the meaning of any message.
Check out this guide for similar communication activities, that stress both good listening and good articulation.
Selective listening is the act of hearing and interpreting only parts of a message that seem relevant to you, while ignoring or devaluing the rest. Often, selective listeners will form arguments before they’ve heard the full story, making them not only poor listeners, but poor speakers too!
To confront this in a group environment, one moderator should compose a list of objects or ideas, all similar in theme. For example: turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, cheese, etc. These are all sandwich components, and most people will recognize this. The list should be relatively long, maybe 15 to 20 words, and have some repeated words. For example: turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, cheese, ham, lettuce, pickles, onion, olives, lettuce…
The moderator should read this list to the group, and then allot them 30 seconds to write down as many words as they can remember. Most people will remember the word that was repeated the most, and a notable amount will most likely write down words that were obvious, but not actually stated in the list. For example: bread, sandwich, or food.
A good listener should be able to view a discussion as a whole, and not just its most immediate parts. The group storytelling activity is a fun, potentially silly, but incredibly valuable exercise in active listening and comprehension.
This activity should have one group moderator, who will deliver the story’s first line. It should be something simple, and open for many possible continuations, such as, “So the other day, I went to the store.”
Each participant in the group is responsible for making up their own contribution to the story, a single sentence that logically continues from the last. Meanwhile, the group moderator should be keeping track of the story on a computer or in a notepad, checking each addition for possible continuity errors.
Most of the time, there will be a few additions that contradict previous parts of the story. The moderator should hold out on identifying these until the full story has been written, and can be read aloud to the group. Then, the group can discuss how these mistakes were made, and what sorts of listening skills they should practice to ensure important information is never forgotten.
Check out this course on conscious listening for more information on the importance of combating selective hearing and inattentive communication.
Additional Listening Skills Exercises
Here are more listening skills exercises that should help you and your team develop the listening skills they need for effective communication. Don’t forget to follow up each exercise with a discussion! Check out this communications guide for some talking points.
- Read a short story, and have participants paraphrase. This activity is a study in how team members choose to interpret and prioritize certain information over others.
- Pair up participants, and have one person discuss a hobby or passion of theirs, while the other person is instructed to ignore them. Discuss the frustration that can come with not feeling heard or acknowledged, and review good body language and verbal remarks a good listener should practice.
- In pairs, one participant discusses a type of location they’d like to visit, giving only subtle hints as to the specific place. The listener will have to pick up on these subtleties and at the end, recommend somewhere suitable for the speaker based on their explanation. The original speaker will confirm or deny the usefulness of the suggestion, and the two will then discuss ways people can stay alert, as a listener, and pick up on the appropriate cues to help them play a more vital role in discussions.