Coping Skill - #2B - Active Listening

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    In this blog, I intend to define and provide an example of how Active Listening works, but before I do that I want to personally thank Don Fraser, David Robbins and Ellen G. for their comments on my blog entitled Coping Skills #2A - Active Listening which I posted on February 24th, as well as the comments they have made on earlier blogs. These comments are what keep me going.


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    In a previous blog [Coping Skills - #2A - Active Listening], I observed that textual and electronic communications ( such as letters, e-mail and text messaging, which contain no body language or voice inflections) can be the source of misinterpretations resulting in devastating misunderstandings, both in commerce and romance. These types of communications mimic the difficulty that those of us with schizophrenia encounter every day in conversations with others because we often have difficulty interpreting body language and voice inflections. Oddly the use of e-mail and text messaging for us has the effect of leveling the playing field. No one has an advantage by being able to more accurately interpret body language and voice inflections because these clues simply are not available. And finally, I suggested that Active Listening is a technique which those of us with schizophrenia can use to offset the trouble we experience in interpreting body language and voice inflections in conversations with others. In fact, because others often do not listen carefully, our use of Active Listening may actually provide us with an advantage.

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    For a whole host of reasons, in conversation people often do not say precisely what they mean, which can lead to misunderstanding and confusion. Active Listening is a technique used in conversations with others in which successive questions or statements of clarification are used by the listener to hone in on what others really mean. Active Listening itself uses a technique called Successive Approximations. When someone else makes a statement that can be misinterpreted, the listener simply asks for clarification or paraphrases what the speaker has said and asks if this is what the speaker meant. By using a series of such questions or statements the listener can approximate ever more closely what the speaker means, thereby lessening the possibility of a misunderstanding.


    Let me use a fictitious example of how this works.

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    I joined a circle of men at a cocktail party just in time to hear the host, Joe, make the comment - "I wish my mother-in-law would get run over by a bloody bus."


    Joe took a shot of scotch down in a single swallow, slammed his glass down and reached for a bottle of Chivas Regal on the counter.


    No one said anything.


    "What kind of bus?" I finally asked.


    "That's an odd question," Joe said, looking as if he was ready to make an issue of it. "What do you mean, ‘what kind of a bus'?"


    "Well, you said you wanted a bus to run over your mother-in-law. I was wondering if a city bus would do, or maybe a school bus so that your kids could watch."


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    Henry, one of the men in the circle signaled to me that Joe had had too much to drink and that I should be cautious.


    "What? Are you crazy?" Joe exclaimed.


    If only Joe knew, I thought.


    "I don't really want the old bag to get run over by a bus."


    "Would a dump truck be better, then?" I asked.


    "Of course not," Joe replied, looking as if he was about ready to tear up. "I don't want her dead."


    "What do you want?"


    "I want her out of the house."


    "Have you thought of assisted living?" Henry asked.


    "Yes. My mother-in-law liked the idea, but my wife, Sally, said she wouldn't abandon her mother to the care of strangers."


    "So the real problem is not your mother-in-law," Henry said. "The problem is with Sally."


    "Un huh, Sally is spending all her time with her mother," Joe said. We hardly get any time to ourselves, and when we do, Sally is always exhausted."

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    As I said, the example is fictitious, but if the technique of Active Listening is employed it can help to uncover some subtle, but important differences in what people say and what they mean.  If you google "active listening" you will find there is a great deal of information available about this technique and how to use it.



    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.


Published On: March 02, 2008