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The second topic in our webinar blog series is Getting Past “I Don’t Know”: The Active Listening Technique. Led by IMCS Network Medical Director Michael Coupland, RPsych, this blog includes an explanation of this technique, its benefits and a small group exercise that teaches you ways to practice this skill.

What is the Active Listening Technique?

Active listening involves making a conscious effort to listen to and “hear” a speaker’s words as well as understand the message. This means you must not interrupt or become distracted while someone else is speaking but pay careful attention to what the person is saying.

This skill helps you get to the heart of the matter, eliminate “I don’t know” and find common ground in your daily conversations.

Benefits of using this technique:

    1. Avoids questions that close communication down
    2. Avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they do really understand what another person has said 
    3. Encourages people to open up and say more
    4. Helps avoid conflicts because people become more attuned to concerns and don’t feel as though they’re being dismissed

Other details that support this technique:

If someone responds to a question you ask by saying, “I don’t know,” ask them, “What would you say if you did know?” This will help them open up without committing to it.

Small Group Exercise: “I am going on a vacation”

This exercise involves a listener who is trying to find out where a speaker is traveling.

Break into groups of 3 and determine your role:

    • Speaker
    • Listener
    • Scorekeeper

Purpose of each role:

    • The speaker will think of a specific place they are going to go on a vacation
    • The listener will use active listening techniques to determine where the speaker is going
    • The scorekeeper will tally points for the listener accordingly: ADD 1 point each time the listener uses active listening and SUBTRACT 1 point each time the listener asks a question (except for “What would you say if you did know?”). ADD 10 points if the listener discovers the specific vacation location

The speaker will start with the statement, “I am going on a vacation.” Each time the speaker can offer more information without giving the specific location. The listener is to use the active listening technique to prompt the speaker to offer more information.

Repeat this exercise three times (after all participants have had a chance to assume each role).

For more small group exercises and practice in clear communication, be sure to read more in our Practice Exercises blog series and learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that change outcomes.

IMCS – Integrated Medical Case Solutions – is the premier behavioral medicine network for pain and trauma response with evidence-based outcomes and a proven track record for transforming workers’ compensation cases. IMCS makes intervention efficient with a national network of 1,200+ psychologists and psychiatrists in all 50 states.