Of What Feather are You?

Of What Feather Are You?
“The next time someone asks you, ‘Hey, howdja get to be a homosexual anyway?’ tell them, ‘Homosexuals are chosen first on talent, then interview… then the swimsuit and evening gown competition pretty much gets rid of the rest of them.’”
-Karen Williams

Active Listening: The Skill of Paying Attention

Active Listening

I wrote and taught a training in Active Listening when I was a supervisor at a call center for Pacific Bell Internet.

I first learned Active Listening  as a volunteer at a Crisis Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

I discovered a draft of this training while sorting through old files.

I realized when I read it that Active Listening is an all-purpose skill that is relevant for people with mental health issues and for their families.

The skill of quieting the mind to attend to the words of another person is invaluable, especially for those of us who must cope with perceptual and emotional distortions.

I’ve left most of the text as it was.

The original title of the training is, ACTIVE LISTENING: The Skill of Providing Quality Customer Service.

However, I now call it: Active Listening: A great Social Skill in General.

Premise: Technical people may understand the subtle differences in similar types of new technology but may not understand that a frustrated caller is not making a personal attack.

The Support Center is pivotal to delivering technical support and information about new products.

The Technical Analyst must have the technical skills and the ability to speak effectively to frustrated clients.

Our agents must appreciate that our customers are not an interruption.

Every customer is different. Our agents must recognize these differences and adjust themselves.

When we make sure that our agents use these skills we proactively reduce stress and turnover in staff.

We also guarantee consistent service to our customers.


The process of gathering information, ideas, attitudes, and emotions for promoting the listener’s capacity to understand another person.

 The theory behind Active Listening is this:

When one genuinely tries to understand another person’s point of view, that person feels cared about and is likely to respond in kind.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the differences between passive and active listening and know when to use each
  • Use acceptance responses to communicate to the customer that he/she is being heard without interrupting the flow of thought
  • Repeat verbatim critical elements of the conversation to verify that you understand.
  • Paraphrase what the customer says to confirm understanding
  • Ask clarifying questions to get a full and clear understanding
  • Organize and summarize key elements of the conversation to assure understanding
  • Utilize active listening skills to strengthen the bonds of trust and rapport
  • Understand that until the customer feels that the situation is completely understood, the customer will resist solutions
  • Learn to use transition sentences to propose a different point of view without humiliating the customer

 Active Listening Skills:

  • Allow the speaker to speak without interruption
  • Demonstrate interest by asking the speaker to elaborate.
  • Demonstrate empathy for the speaker’s feelings
  • Clarify the subtext of the message by restating the subject.
  • Be aware of nonverbal messages such as sighing. 
  • Stay away from sounding critical.
  • Eliminate distractions

Active listening proceeds in two phases:

  1. Attending (aware of the other person)
  2. Following, or verifying that you have accurately determined the speaker’s meaning
  • Attending skills involve staying silent and keeping one’s body language open (essential for telephone calls)
  • Following skills involve questioning, reflection and summarizing.

Top causes of misunderstandings:

  • You presume that you KNOW the speaker’s thoughts or feelings.
  • You think about your response while the speaker is talking
  • You listen for what you want to hear
  • You drift off during the conversation
  • Identifying; referring everything the speaker says to your own experience
  • Judging; assessing the speakers presentation and not listening to the ‘message’
  • Derailing; changing the subject
  • Challenging and discounting the speakers experience
  • Placating and agreeing with everything to avoid conflict

Active listening IS…

  • A conscious activity that requires the listeners full attention
  • The ability to accurately comprehend and summarize what the speaker has said
  • Completely non-judgmental
  • Open-minded

Active listening IS NOT…

  • inquiry
  • Interpreting (hearing what you want to hear)
  • Devious
  • A way of becoming superior to the customer

Customer Service Agents must ask themselves the following questions before taking a call:

  • What is the purpose of listening?
  • How will I take the information?
  • Am I ready to take notes?
  • Which listening strategies do I use best?

Agents will ask themselves the following questions DURING the call:

  • Is my strategy still working?
  • Do I clearly hear the speaker’s reason for making the call?
  • Am I listening for nonverbal clues I do not have the customer’s attention? (For instance sounds of distraction such as typing on a keyboard)?
  • Has the caller’s manner changed during the call?
  • Are my questions pertinent and my answers clear?
  • Is the call going well? If not, why not?

Use the following skills for coping with a difficult call:

  • Make sure the customer knows that he or she is your priority.
  • When a call is difficult sit up and take a deep breath. This will relax you and remove strain from your voice.
  • Speak clearly and be concise.


Matthew Robert Goldstein 09/23/2000

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