The act of listening is not the same as hearing. When someone is communicating with you, they want to feel like they’re talking to you, rather than at you, and that can only be done with a set of good listening skills and an understanding of the principles of effective communication. Here’s one way to learn how to become an empathetic, attentive, and active listener with a listening skills exercise that originated from a game you may have heard of as a child, but that has recently become popular for those wishing to sharpen their listening.
A Game of “Phones”
Telephone might be considered a child’s game, but it’s actually a very useful exercise in communication for those working to improve their own or their team’s listening skills. The rules are simple, but altered slightly in order to shed additional light on the importance of active listening, and how information can become distorted as a result of laziness, inattentiveness, and passivity, which are all enemies of effective communication.
To start the game, participants should stand in a line, or a circle. One person begins the game by whispering a sentence to the person after them. This sentence should be prepared beforehand, by someone moderating the game, but it should only be known to the person starting the game. The person who received the messages should then whisper it to the person after them, and so on.
By the time it gets to the final person in the group, they should say the message aloud. The first person will read the sentence they were given, and participants can note how much the two have changed. It’s very unlikely, especially in large groups, that the message has not been altered at least a little bit.
The additional rule that can be added to make this exercise more lucid is for each participant to keep a small note card. After they hear the message – not during, but after – they should write down what they heard, and read it to the person next to them. This way, any slight change in the message is down on paper, and the group moderator can post these note cards up in front of the room. Then, the team can study how subtle changes in word use, slight additions or eliminations, can significantly alter the meaning of any message.
Whether playing this game at work as part of a team-building exercise, or together at home as a family, odds are that your listening skills will become sharper over time, enabling you to be not only a better listener, but more productive too!