Jan Evers
  This is the third in a series of four lessons in a unit on Communicating at Work. The lessons are: (1) Communicating at work: Five basic human needs (2) Communicating at work: Building a successful team (3) Communicating at work: Listening strategies and skills (4) Communicating at work: Facilitating good communication

  Job Skills, Listening Skills, Work Environment

Learner Level:

Time Frame:
  One hour

Learner Grouping:
  Whole Class

  This lesson was developed and field tested with OVEC VISTA Volunteers. It was used as a part of their professional development plan.


  OVEC Family Literacy

Type of Program:
  Basic Skills

Student Population Served:

Communicating at work: Listening strategies and skills

Learners play the game of "Gossip" to understand the importance of active listening skills. Students then learn active listening skills through group discussion, lecture and small group exercises. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Participants will be able to demonstrate the skills of active listening and learn how this may affect the workplace.

Primary Skill:
Listen actively

Secondary Skills:

Learner Needs & Goals:
Learners needed to build an awareness of Active Listening Skills in order to enhance communication skills among workers. Employees at all levels need to be heard and listened to in order to feel that they belong and have significance. ("Belonging and significance" is one of the Five Basic Human Needs introduced in the first lesson in this series.)

Learning Activity Description:
1. Warm-Up Activity
The instructor in this lesson begins a game of "Gossip". The instructor tells a secret to one person in the class who is instructed to pass it on to the next. The "secret" is a sentence or two such as "Blue Bears eat fish, berries and grass in the woods all winter long." If possible, the instructor should use instead a sentence that is work-related or contains work content. Each participant hears the secret repeated in a whisper from the person before and similarly passes the secret to the next person. The last participant is asked to repeat the secret aloud for the class to hear. This is done to prove the point of how important it is to listen actively.

(2) Participants will be asked to make comments on the game. What could have been done to make sure the story stayed the same all the way to the end of the game? Discuss this in class and put the ideas on a flip chart or board.

Keep these ideas posted in the room for discussion purposes as the lesson continues.

(3) The instructor presents the following content information (taken from "IMPROVING YOUR LISTENING SKILLS" by Amy Bly and Robert W. Bly and available at http://www.smartbiz.com/sbs/arts/bly55.htm) on how to be an active listener. (A copy of the lesson content should be made available for learners to refer to, either posted at the front of the class for all to see or as a handout.) As the lesson proceeds, students compare their list generated from their experience with the "Gossip" game to the lesson content, noting additions to their list from the lesson content and additions to lesson content from their list.

Are you a good listener? Think about your relationships with the people in your life---your boss, colleagues, subordinates, best friend, and spouse. If asked, what would they say about how well you listened? Do you often misunderstand assignments or only vaguely remember what people have said to you. If so, you may need to improve your listening skills. The first step is to understand how the listening process works.

Four Steps
A. Hearing is the first step. At this stage, you simply pay attention to make sure you hear the message.
B. Interpretation. If you fail to interpret a speaker's word correctly it may lead to a misunderstanding.
C. Evaluation. Decide what to do with the information you have received.
D. Respond. This is a verbal or visual response that lets the speaker know whether you have gotten the message and what your reaction is.

And use the following tips:

  • Don't talk---listen. People like to have a chance to get their own ideas or opinions across. A good listener lets them do it.
  • Don't jump to conclusions. Many people will tune out a speaker when they think they have the general idea of the conversation.
  • Ask questions. It's perfectly acceptable to say, "Do you mean….?" or "Did I understand you to say….?"
  • Overlook a speech problem, a twitch, or sexist language. Paying too much attention to these types of distractions can break your concentration.
  • Keep an open mind. The point of listening it to gain new information.
  • Listen to others' points of view and ideas. It could turn out to be fascinating.
  • Provide feedback. Make eye contact, nod your head and if appropriate, interject a comment such as "I see," or "That's interesting," or "Really?"

(4) Depending on the size of the group, break the group into groups of 3 to 5 people. Each person has a turn to tell the group something about themselves while the others practice their new skills in actively listening. The instructor may want to have one person in each group not be a good listener by practicing these habits instead;

  • Instead of listening, think about what you are going to say next while the other person is still talking.
  • Be easily distracted by the speaker's mannerisms or by what is going on around you.
  • Frequently interrupt before the speaker has finished talking.
  • Drift off into daydreams because you are sure you know what the speaker is going to say.

(5) Discuss the activity openly as a class and let the participants explain what it felt like when they were actively being listened to and what it felt like when someone was not listening to them. Let the participants come to the conclusion that listening requires full concentration and active involvement, and is, in fact, hard work.

Materials and Resources:

  • Flip Chart
  • Markers
  • A content resource for the instructor on listening skills is available on the Internet at http://www.smartbiz.com/sbs/arts/bly55.htm.
  • A good additional resource for the instructor (which could also be used with the class) would be the KET Workplace Essential Skills video, Communicating at Work: The Language of Work Listening Strategies and Skills. It is a part of a PBS LiteracyLink project available through KET, The Kentucky Network - Enterprise Division, 560 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502-2200, phone (800) 354-9067.


As an assessment to the lesson, the instructor may want to end the class with another game of "Gossip". This time have the participants practice the active listening skills they have acquired. The instructor can observe to note evidence that active learning is being practiced. See if the outcome of the game ends up differently. Much improved message transferal accuracy will provide good student evaluation that active listening skills help communication.

This particular lesson was field tested with Summer VISTA Volunteers. They all seemed to like the lesson. However, I am sure there would be changes others would make to accommodate their own teaching style and their audience.


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