A key developmental task during adolescence is establishing intimate relationships outside the family unit. In order to do this successfully, you have to learn to communicate effectively. Many pregnancy prevention programs cover assertiveness and refusal skills as part of effective communication. But in order to establish healthy relationships, teens need to learn not only to express themselves effectively but also to listen attentively to other people.
Description of the Skill
Communication is key to any healthy relationship and being a good listener is a key element of good communication. Most teens focus on expressing their ideas but not necessarily on listening to what others have to say. When it comes time to listen, many teens think there's nothing to it. The truth is, young people can learn skills that will help them become better listeners. The primary three listening skills are non-verbals, active listening, and neutrality. Each of these three skills is described below.
Non-verbal communication gives the speaker signals that you're paying attention without interrupting what he or she is saying. Non-verbals, including body language, communicate interest and respect for the speaker. Non-verbals include nodding, eye contact, facial expressions (smile, grimace, pucker, etc.), and posture.
There are non-verbals that convey paying attention and those that show inattention. The following examples can help illustrate this clearly to youth:
Being Inattentive or Disrespectful
- Shrugging your shoulders
- Looking away from the speaker
- Crossing your arms and/or legs
- Sitting slouched over
- Rolling your eyes
- Tapping your fingers
- Making eye contact
- Nodding your head
- Sitting up straight
- Leaning towards speaker
- Uncrossing your legs and arms
Active listening is a way of eliciting information and emotions from a speaker, thereby gaining intimacy with him or her. The more a youth knows about the person with whom he or she is developing a relationship, the more information s/he will have upon which to build that relationship. Two important active listening skills are: Asking open-ended questions and reflecting what the speaker is saying, thinking, or feeling.
require more of an answer than a simple yes or no. They are conversation encouragers, inviting the speaker to say more about a subject. The following examples of the same question asked in both open and closed-ended manners should help young people understand this concept:
Closed: Are you feeling bad today?
- Open: How are you feeling today?
- Closed: Do you think he likes me?
- Open: How do you think he feels about me?
- Closed: I think it's okay to have sex at age 15, don't you?
- Open: When do you think it's okay for a teenager to have sex?
Reflection is a process whereby the listener checks to make sure s/he is understanding the speaker correctly. The listener can reflect by occasionally putting what the speaker has said into his or her own words. (This is also called paraphrasing.) The listener can also reflect what s/he thinks the speaker is feeling or thinking. Another technique is to summarize the main points from time to time. All these techniques of reflection let the speaker know you're listening and you understand.
- Speaker: I wish I had someone to talk to about sex. My boyfriend, well, you know, he doesn't talk much. And my parents would kill me if they knew I was having sex, or even thinking about it!
- Listener: It sounds like you're frustrated because you can't talk to your parents and you don't have anyone else to talk to about sex.
In order to increase communication and develop intimacy, young people need to learn how to remain neutral when another person is speaking. If a listener expresses his or her own opinion, it may serve to shut down the speaker. To remain neutral, the listener needs to convey objectivity by using neutral language and varying voice intonations.
Here's an example of remaining neutral when another is speaking about a controversial subject:
- One young person is speaking about age for first sexual intercourse to another young person who either has already had sex or has made a pact to abstain until marriage.
- Speaker: When do you think it's okay to have sex?
- Listener: Well, I have my own ideas, but I wonder what you think. What's your opinion about a good age to have sex? OR
- Listener: I think it's a very personal subject. What age feels right to you? OR
- Listener: Since it's different for everyone, why don't you tell me more about what you think?