A guest post by Jason Benham
I’m a volunteer trainer at Down To Earth (DTE), a Mumbai-based non-profit organization that focuses on catalyzing constructive change in young learners from humble backgrounds.
I’ve been working at Cuffe Parade, one of DTE’s centres in the south of the city since August last year.
In June, I ran a 90-minute Active Listening workshop for eight learners aged 11 to 13 years. Their first languages were Hindi and Marathi but they had a good command of English. This was the first of a series of communication skills workshops I plan to hold over the coming months.
Active listening is a vital skill we all need to do, but so many people fail to do in their everyday lives. The great thing is that it can easily be practiced. At the end of the session there were eight learners eager to put their new training into practice with family and friends.
Having eight students was a great number and much smaller than the class size I usually teach there. It meant that I could really focus my attention on each learner and take them around the experiential learning cycle – experience, interpret, generalize and apply.
As a warm up exercise, the participants told a story in a circle saying one word each in order. The key was not to hesitate and ensure the story continued to make sense. After a couple of rounds the learners said two words each, and two rounds later, three words. The learners really enjoyed this exercise and it was a great way to elicit from them the skills that they used, including listening.
In pairs, they discussed what active listening is, what it looks like and why it’s important, before this became part a wider group discussion. Next came demonstrating to the learners the Active Listening Sequence, focusing on the use of open questions and the listener’s minimum 3 second wait before responding.
They discussed in new pairs, their thoughts on the difference between open and closed questions, and role-played both types which proved a good activity to do before practicing the Active Listening Sequence.
Facing each other, they practiced the sequence discussing topics of their choice. In the reflection and feedback discussion, the learners said found the activity quite challenging and spent the minimum 3 second rule before responding counting down the seconds rather than concentrating on what they were told and how they would reply.
As a group we talked about the importance of body language in giving our attention when communicating. They practiced the sequence again but discussed topics which required more thinking and a greater degree of listening.
Feedback was extremely positive as most learners changed from counting down the minimum 3 seconds to focusing more on what they heard and how they would respond. We ended the workshop with a demonstration by two of the participants and a final reflection and discussion session about what they would do differently in the future and how they could apply what they learned in their everyday lives. It was a fun session!
About Jason Benham
Jason is a communication and intercultural skills trainer based in Mumbai. He works with
corporates and NGOs. Before becoming a trainer, Jason was a journalist and corporate
communications professional and worked for multinationals in Asia, Europe and the Middle
East. He can be reached at email@example.com