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7 Targeted Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activities for Adults

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In this article I share step-by-step instructions for 7 targeted Active Listening games, activities and exercises for adults. To become proficient at Active Listening we need to develop several skills. And like any skill, this takes practice. So I’ve designed these activities to give individuals and training workshop groups interesting ways of targeting and practicing seven of the more important Active Listening skills.  

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These Active Listening Activities Are Unique

When searching the Internet for ways to improve my Active Listening skills, most of the activities, exercises, and games that I found to improve listening skills for adults were simply warm-up activities. They were great for helping me realise that Active Listening is important. But they weren’t designed to help me take that next step of actually developing the skill of Active Listening

This paucity of behaviour-changing exercises forced me to devise my own ways of improving my Active Listening skills. And over time I've come across a couple of well-recognised habit-forming techniques that have greatly improved my own personal ability to listen actively.

So, my purpose for this article is to pass on some of those techniques in the form of Active Listening games, exercises and activities. I want to help fill that gap in the online content and make it easier and quicker for you to improve your listening skills. 

Each of the seven Active Listening games below is designed for adults (not children) and designed to target and reinforce a specific listening skill that is essential for being a good active listener. Four activities are original. Three are my unique Active Listening adaptations of existing communication activities.

All of the Active Listening games, activities, and exercises are formatted as self-contained instruction sheets consisting of:

  • A short blurb on the Active Listening skill being developed and why it’s important to our discussions.
  • Objectives and step-by-step instructions for the activity.
  • Follow-up discussion/debrief prompts.
  • Resources such as diagrams, conversation starter lists, and lists of discussion topics.

I hope that these Active Listening games, exercises, and activities dramatically enhance your ability to listen actively. Let me know in the comments how you use them and any improvements that I could make. Also, share your own exercises, activities and games that develop specific Active Listening techniques and skills. I might be able to add them to the article.

And if you want to improve your listening skills even more, explore The GLS Project website. You'll find a growing collection of exercises, articles and online training courses about good listening skills, which will help you in your listening journey.

So, enjoy! And let’s make listening fashionable.

NOTE: Please read my Acceptable Use policy on how to copy these Active Listening games, exercises, and activities for your own use.

And as a kick-start, you’ll get the free download

"10 Active Listening Questions to Improve Focus and Boost Listening Effectiveness in Your Very Next Conversation".

How to focus with 10 Active Listening questions
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Want Brilliant Discussions?

Enter your email to receive easy listening techniques & strategies, think pieces on being a better listener, and GLS blog post notifications

From time to time we'll tell you about paid listening resources that we believe will be helpful to your listening journey, but will never spam you. We hate it with a passion!

View our Privacy Policy & Terms of Use.

And as a kick-start, you’ll get the free download
"10 Active Listening Questions to Improve Focus and Boost Listening Effectiveness in Your Very Next Conversation".

How to focus with 10 Active Listening questions

Index of Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activities

Here are the 7 Active Listening games, activities and exercises, paired with the essential listening skills that they are designed to target and develop. Click on the tiles to jump to the instructions for each of the Active Listening games.

Active Listening Exercises for Adults

1. Exercise - Just Listen

Listening Without Interrupting

Approximate Time Needed

Setup - 5 minutes

Exercise - 10 minutes

Follow-up Discussion - 15 minutes

In Brief

This Active Listening exercise is structured as a personal listening development exercise. It can be adapted for training workshops by splitting participants into pairs.

You will need a volunteer for this exercise.

Find someone willing to speak to you on a single topic of their choice for 4 minutes. Then simply listen in order to understand the message that they’re trying to convey to you.  

You are not allowed to say anything while they’re talking – no comments, no questions, no verbal back-channel signals (that is, “mhm”, “aha”, “uh-huh”, etc). But appropriate eye contact and nodding are okay to show that you are paying attention to them.

Just listen in silence and try to understand the speaker. 

At the end of 4 minutes you may speak. Paraphrase in your own words the main points that you think you heard the speaker say - they should remain quiet while you're paraphrasing.  Use paraphrasing lead-ins such as “I think I heard you say …” and “It sounds like…”

Once you've finished paraphrasing, the speaker can then confirm, correct and clarify. And you may ask follow-up questions if desired.

Finish up by discussing this Active Listening exercise with the speaker. 

Objectives

The objectives of this Active Listening exercise are to help you:

  • quieten those urges to interrupt in order to jump in with your comments.
  • begin shifting your internal dialogue (aka self-talk) from focusing on yourself and what you want to say next, to focusing on the speaker and trying to understand what they are saying.

Why Is This Active Listening Exercise Important?

It is torturously tempting to do the talking, or to let our minds drift off somewhere far away. 

Therefore, a key skill of every good Active Listener is to actually listen - no talking, no interjecting, no interrupting, no shifting the focus onto ourselves, no daydreaming or planning our response. Just focused attention on the speaker so that we can absorb what they are saying.

Setup

  1. Invite a trusted person to help you with this exercise (e.g. a family member, a friend, or a work colleague). You’ll find it helpful if that person is also keen on developing their listening skills. Say something like, “Hey, I’m keen on developing good listening skills. I need someone to help me with a listening exercise. Can you help? It will take no more than 25 minutes.”
  2. Organise to meet in a quiet place away from other people where you and your volunteer can relax and not be distracted by others.
  3. Take a list of conversation starters (see the resouce below) just in case the speaker’s mind goes blank.

What To Do

  1. Meet at your agreed ‘quiet place’.
  2. Limit the whole exercise to 25 minutes.
  3. Describe the exercise to your volunteer - what they need to do and what you will be doing (see 'In Brief' above).
  4. Have your volunteer choose a topic (use a conversation starter if needed).
  5. Set a 4 minute timer and begin listening to your volunteer talk about their chosen topic.
    1. Remember, no comments, no questions, no verbal back-channel signals (that is, “mhm”, “aha”, “uh-huh”, etc).
    2. Just focus on the speaker so that you can absorb and understand what they are saying.
    3. While listening, answer in your own mind, questions such as:
      1. “What aspects of the speaker's message most interest them?”
      2. “What aspects most interest me?”
      3. “What is the main theme(s) of their message?”
      4. “What are the key takeaways from the speaker’s message?”
      5. and so on.
  6. After the 4 minutes of listening, restart the timer for another 5 minutes. 
  7. Briefly share what you think you heard the speaker say (i.e. paraphrase their message). Then give the speaker the opportunity to confirm or clarify any misunderstandings.
  8. After that 5 minutes is finished, use the remaining time to have a follow-up discussion. Use the discussion points below.

Follow-up Discussion

Finish this Active Listening exercise by discussing the following:

  • Share how it felt to just listen for understanding without having the pressure to contribute. 
  • Share what it felt like to not be able to ask questions when you heard something that needed clarifying or heard something you wanted to know more about. What kinds of questions might you have asked?
  • Discuss what happened to your internal dialogue.
  • Did you actually need to plan your response? Why? Why not?
  • Discuss how the speaker felt to have your full attention.
  • Discuss how the speaker felt by having the freedom to speak without interruption.
  • Discuss anything else that impacted you both.
  • Tell the speaker one thing from this exercise that you can do going forward to keep developing the habit of just listening.
  • Discuss any other thoughts about this Active Listening exercise.

Resource - 14 Conversation Starters

Your volunteer can use one of these conversation starters if they can't think up their own topic. [1]

  • Who is your longest friend? Where did you meet them? What do you appreciate about them?
  • What were you really into when you were a kid? Why did it capture you? Discuss.
  • What three words best describe you? Why?
  • What would be your perfect weekend? Talk your way through that perfect weekend.
  • If you opened a business, what kind of business would it be? What draws you to that idea?
  • What is the strangest dream you have ever had?
  • Describe a controversial opinion that you have.
  • Who in your life brings you the most joy? How?
  • Who had the biggest impact on the person you have become? How has your life changed because of them?
  • What are some things you want to accomplish before you die? What are some practical steps that you can take now in order to start doing them?
  • Describe a book that’s had an impact on your life. What was the impact and how is it affecting you today?
  • If you could call up anyone in the world and have a one hour conversation, who would you call? What would you talk about?
  • Imagine that time freezes for everyone but you for one day. What do you do?
  • If your mind was an island, what would it look like? Walk me around that ‘island’. 

References

  1. 1
    Special thanks to C.B.Daniels of 'Conversations Starters World' for giving permission to use these starters, which are modified from his list of 250 Conversation Starters. Head over to www.conversationstartersworld.com for 1000s more on all sorts of topics.
  2. 2
    This exercise was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

2. Exercise - Listen First, Speak Second

Having the Mindset of a Listener

Approximate Time Needed

Exercise - 10 minutes

Debrief - 3 minutes

In Brief

This is a solo Active Listening exercise.

You will utilise a well-recognised habit-formation strategy - the process of ‘imagination’ and ‘reflection.' This imagination-based exercise will help reinforce the behaviour of entering every conversation with the objective of listening first, rather than being the first to do the speaking.

Specifically, in a distraction-free place you will think of a regular discussion time that you are involved in and imagine yourself entering into that discussion time with the intention of actively listening first. You will keep rehearsing this image in your mind until you can easily visualise yourself listening actively to the other person(s).

Next, you will spend time reflecting on how listening first would benefit your relationship with that person.

Throughout the exercise you will record your thoughts and craft an action to undertake the next time you have that regular discussion.

Objectives

The objective of this Active Listening exercise is to help you develop the mindset of entering into every discussion firstly wearing your ‘listener’ hat, so as to focus on understanding the other person’s perspective. Then, once you adequately understand them, you can switch into the role of ‘speaker’ in order to share your perspective.

Why Is This Active Listening Exercise Important?

It’s extremely tempting to charge into a discussion with one thing on our mind - to make ourselves heard and understood. When we do this, listening can become a bit of an afterthought.

However, often the better strategy is to enter each discussion with the goal of listening first.

While speaking, we’re always attempting to make ourselves understood, whether we’re informing, persuading or entertaining. 

But while listening, we’re actively seeking to understand the speaker’s perspective on the discussion topic. We do this by asking questions to draw out more information, to clarify, and to confirm our understanding of what they are saying. This is called Active Listening. [1]

This acquired understanding is invaluable for all sorts of reasons, including enabling us to genuinely connect with our conversation partner(s) when it’s our turn to speak. Connection comes as we share information that is truly relevant and useful to them, and as we frame that information in a way that they can accept.

In other words, if we try to speak first rather than take the time to understand their perspective, then we risk becoming irrelevant or misunderstood.

A Key Principle

This exercise utilises a well-recognised habit-formation strategy - the process of ‘imagination’ and ‘reflection'. You’ll be using your imagination to rehearse the act of listening. This ‘rehearsal’ process will cognitively reinforce the behaviour of listening first and speaking second. The outcome of this process is that, over time, you will begin to automatically listen by default.

What To Do

  1. Find a place free of distractions and sit down with a notepad and pen.
  2. Think of a specific, regular discussion time that you’re involved in.
    1. It could be a weekly meeting with a work colleague, the daily family time around the dinner table, or a mid-week lunch catch-up with a friend.
  3. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself entering into that regular discussion time with the intention of actively listening first rather than being the first to do the speaking.
    1. Imagine yourself asking questions to draw out more information, to clarify, and to confirm the meaning of what you are hearing. 
    2. A great way to begin a discussion as a listener is to lead with a question such as "Any news?" or, "What's the progress since our last catch-up?"
  4. Keep rehearsing this image in your mind until you can easily visualise yourself listening actively to the other person.
  5. Once you’ve got a clear mental image of listening actively, reflect on the following questions:
    1. How would your relationship with that person(s) change if you regularly listened first?
    2. How would you change if you regularly listened first?
  6. Record your thoughts on the notepad. Writing helps with the cognitive reinforcement process.
  7. Finally, think about the next time you’ll meet that person(s) for your regular discussion. What is one practical action that you can take at the start of your next discussion in order to listen to them first and allow them to speak?
  8. Go have that discussion.

Debrief

After having that discussion, come back to this Active Listening exercise and debrief the discussion using the following steps:

  1. Briefly reflect on what did and didn’t work.
  2. Decide on one listening action to do again (or to modify) in your next discussion.
  3. Take a couple of minutes to imagine yourself doing that action.
  4. Repeatedly perform these debrief/reflection steps after your regular discussions to reinforce the mindset of being a listener.

If you regularly reflect on your listening efforts, you’ll begin to automatically listen more in your real-life discussions. Listening will become your default approach.

References

  1. 1
     For more information about how to listen actively, see The GLS Project article, ‘Active Listening How To – 5 Easy Steps to Your Best Conversation Yet’, www.goodlisteningskills.org/active-listening-overview.
  2. 2
    This exercise was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

Active Listening Activities for Adults

3. Activity - A Mile in Their Shoes

Developing Cognitive Empathy

Approximate Time Needed

Activity - 30 minutes max

Debrief - 15 minutes max

In Brief

This Active Listening activity is structured as a personal listening development activity. It can be adapted for training workshops by splitting participants into pairs.

You will need a volunteer for this activity.

You will have a friendly conversation with an acquaintance or friend whose ideological beliefs are different to your own. For example, a vegan/vegetarian/meat-eater, an environmentalist, an liberal/conservative/socialist, a pro-abortion/pro-life campaigner, etc. 

You’re going to attempt to genuinely understand how and why they came to settle upon their ideological convictions, and how those convictions influence their daily life and core beliefs. 

This may put you well outside your comfort zone. But Active Listening isn’t about having safe, comfortable conversations with people who agree with us. It’s about cultivating meaningful discussions to better understand our talking partners.

Variation

Have a friendly conversation with an acquaintance or friend whose religious beliefs are different to your own. For example, an Atheist, Baha’i, Buddist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh.

Objectives

The objectives of this Active Listening activity are to:

  • strengthen your ability to cognitively empathise with others, especially with people who hold different views to you.
  • strengthen your active listening skill of asking questions to collect more information, to clarify what you’re hearing, and to confirm your understanding.
  • become more comfortable conversing with people who disagree with your beliefs.

Why Is This Active Listening Activity Important?

Cognitive empathy is our goal as Active Listeners.

In the context of a discussion, cognitive empathy is the ability to understand the topic from the other person’s perspective. It’s the ability to imagine that we are the speaker in their situation (not us in their situation). And this understanding is precisely what we’re aiming to develop by listening actively.

Note: Cognitive empathy is different from emotional empathy, which is the ability to share (experience) another person’s emotions - this is what most people think of when they hear the term ‘empathy’.

Developing cognitive empathy with our conversation partner benefits our discussions in four major ways:

  • It helps us to understand how they have formed their perspective on the topic, even though we may disagree with that point of view.
  • It reduces the possibility of us misunderstanding them.
  • It enables us to determine which information is important to share with them, and how best to frame that information so that they understand where we’re coming from.
  • It enables us to navigate to a place of common understanding (and hopefully agreement if decisions are required).

It’s easy to develop cognitive empathy. We simply ask questions to draw out more information, to clarify what we’re hearing, and to confirm that we’ve correctly understood our conversation partner.

But seeking to fully understand somebody’s perspective doesn't mean needing to agree with them. It only means keeping an open-mind and withholding judgement long enough to adequately understand the other person’s perspective. [1]

What To Do

Identify someone who has a belief that is different to your own.  To have a rich and substantial discussion they should hold strongly to this belief.

Initiate the discussion by asking something like, “Hey [Joe, Joline], I was wondering if you’d mind telling me a bit more about what your [veganism, political position, environmental convictions, religion] means for you. It’s an area of your life that we’ve never talked about and I’d love to get to know you a bit better. Would that be okay?”

A conversation of this kind can be quite absorbing. So, if they agree, and now isn’t a good time for a deep discussion, then diarise time to catch up socially in a place where you can talk freely.

When you meet up, break the ice by asking “So tell me... what does it mean to you to be a [vegan, vegetarian, environmental activist, liberal, socialist, pro-abortion campaigner, pro-life campaigner]? And then listen.

Here are some tips to help make your conversation productive:

  • Maintain respect at all times.
  • Remember that you're not obliged to agree with them. 
  • Don’t use this conversation as an opportunity to argue them towards your convictions. Using ‘empathy’ as a smokescreen for ‘evangelism’ is manipulative and deceitful. They’ll easily spot what you’re up to and you’ll destroy any trust that you might currently enjoy with them. Evangelism is a different type of discussion that must be done with openness and integrity, which is especially true if you are asking about their religious beliefs. Stay focused on getting to know this person better.
  • Temporarily suspend your opinions and feelings about their ideology so that you can clearly hear their opinions and feelings about that ideology.
  • Set aside your preconceived ideas of what they believe and ask questions to discover what they actually believe. For example, Pro-abortionists and Pro-lifers often have incorrect ideas about what each other believes because of what they’ve heard second-hand.
  • Throughout the discussion, just listen. Don’t interrupt or try to share your beliefs. Your goal is to learn about them. Only speak in order to ask genuine questions.
  •  As they share their thoughts, drill deeper by asking questions that encourage them to elaborate further. 
    • Here are some targeted questions that you could ask:
      • “So how did you come to be a [vegan, vegetarian, environmental activist, liberal, socialist, pro-abortion/pro-life campaigner, etc]?”
      • “What is it about [veganism, vegetarianism, environmental activism, liberalism, socialism, the pro-abortion/pro-life stance, etc] that you find so compelling?’
      • How do you live out your convictions day-to-day?
      • “What do you like about being a [vegan, vegetarian, environmental activist, liberal, socialist, pro-abortion/pro-life campaigner, etc]?”
      • “What is the most difficult part of being a [vegan, vegetarian, environmental activist, liberal, socialist, pro-abortion/pro-life campaigner, etc]?”
    • Here are some general Active Listening questions that will draw out more information:
      • “Tell me more.”
      • “Why’s that?”
      • “What does that look like?” or “What might that look like in practice?”
      • "How did you come to that opinion/conclusion?"
      • “Earlier you mentioned [xyz]. How does that [impact on, relate to, affect, compare with] what you’ve just shared?”
      • “And that means?”
  • Clarify when you catch yourself jumping to conclusions.
    • For example, ask the following: “Hang on a minute, I heard you say [their statement word for word]. I’m stuck. What did you mean by that?”
  • Confirm your understanding by feeding back what you’ve heard
    • For example, rephrase what they’re telling you: “Are you saying [rephrase the speaker’s sentences in your own words]? Yes?”
    • Also feed back the speaker’s feelings. For example, “You sound [passionate]. I guess [you have been greatly impacted by that], huh?” 
  • Most of all, just relax and be curious. 
  • Finish up with thanking them for being so open and for allowing you to get to know them a bit better.

Debrief

After having that conversation, come back to this Active Listening activity. Spend some time alone and reflect on the following questions:

  • What Active Listening techniques went well?
  • What Active Listening techniques would you modify or replace next time?
  • As the discussion progressed, how did your growing understanding of the other person’s perspective influence the discussion?
  • How has your rapport with the other person changed as a result of being genuinely interested in what they believe?

Tip: Journaling your answers can be helpful for clarifying your thoughts.

References

  1. 1
    For more information on cognitive empathy, including how it differs from emotional empathy, see The GLS Project article ‘Want to Avoid Poor Discussions? Listen With Empathy,’ www.goodlisteningskills.org/listen-with-empathy
  2. 2
    This activity was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

4. Activity - The 3 ‘Whys’

Uncovering Core Beliefs

Approximate Time Needed

Setup - 7 minutes

Activity - 8 minutes

Follow-up Discussion - 10 to 15 minutes

In Brief

This Active Listening activity is designed for training workshops. It is a group activity for practising the Active Listening technique called ‘The 3 Whys.’

The group is split into pairs. Each pair is given a thought-provoking conversation starter (see ‘Resource’ section below).  One participant will ask their activity partner a conversation starter question and then respond to their answer using ‘The 3 Whys.’ The other participant will take the role of genuinely responding to those ‘Why’ questions. After 4 minutes, the participants will switch roles.

Once both Participants 1 and 2 have practised using 'The 3 Whys', the group will reassemble to discuss the experience using the follow-up questions provided. 

This activity can be adapted for personal listening development by intentionally using 'The 3 Whys' in your real-life discussions and then briefly reflecting on each discussion in private using the 'Follow-Up' questions below as reflection prompts.

Objectives

The objective of this Active Listening activity is to help group participants practise using ‘The 3 Whys’ Active Listening technique. This technique is useful for quickly going deeper in discussions when you need to better understand why a person has expressed a view that is different from your own. [1]

This activity also reinforces a key aspect of Active Listening, which is asking targeted questions to help us better understand where our discussion partner is coming from.

Why Is This Active Listening Activity Important?

Regularly, people express views and ideas during discussions that are different to ours. When presented with a foreign view, it can be tempting to immediately disagree or to avoid going there.

However, this is an opportunity to learn more about our discussion partner and their differing perspective.

Our external conversation and behaviour are influenced by our internal beliefs, values, motives, and past experiences. With a little bit of respectful digging using the Active Listening technique called ‘The 3 Whys’, we can quickly uncover their internal/hidden core beliefs and values regarding that topic in order to better understand their external/public response.  [2]

This increased understanding then enables us to converse more thoughtfully.

Technique Description

When a person expresses a view that seems unusual to you, ask “Why?” three times tactfully and genuinely.

Each time you ask the question, don’t bluntly ask “Why?” Soften and modify it in response to what the other person is telling you. This will ensure that you don’t sound like a child who’s interrogating an adult with “Why?! Why?! Why?!” 

To demonstrate, here’s the essence of a real dinner-time discussion about politics:

Person 1: “In the upcoming election are you still planning to vote Labour?” 

Person 2: “Yes I am.”

Person 1: “Why’s that?”

Person 2: “Because I’ve always voted for them.” 

Person 1: “Why do you always vote for them? Is there something specific that you like about them?”

Person 2: “Because they look after the working class.”

Person 1: “Why do you feel like the other main political parties don’t look after the working class?”

Person 2: “Because…[and they opened up with some rather passionate views!]”

How It Works

Conversation starts at the surface level. Typically, we don’t freely share our internal beliefs with others. With each asking of the “Why?” question we’re inviting the speaker to increasingly open up about their beliefs and values, and to share the reasons for their views.

It only takes three iterations to uncover some very personal beliefs. 

Warning: digging deeper can result in lively discussions!

What To Do

  1. Describe the technique to the group.
  2. Split the group into pairs.
  3. Give each pair a conversation starter question (see the resource list below)
  4. Each pair will take turn-about. One participant will take the role of asking the conversation starter and then the 3 ‘Whys.’ The other participant will take the role of genuinely responding to those ‘Why’ questions.
  5. After 4 minutes, switch roles.
  6. Guidelines:
    1. The participant asking the conversation starter and the 3 ‘Why’ questions must not shift the focus of the discussion onto themselves. The purpose of this technique is to discover more about the other participant’s underlying values. It is not a method for creating opportunities to talk about themselves. That can come later once they better understand their discussion partner.
    2. The participant replying to the 3 ‘Why’ questions should not be intentionally evasive. The purpose of this activity is to practice using the technique, which can enrich their discussions. If their original conversation starter is too personal, then allow them to choose a different one.
  7. After everyone has attempted both roles, reassemble the group.
  8. Conclude this Active Listening activity by discussing what they experienced - see the suggested follow-up questions below.

Follow-up Discussion

Here are some possible discussion questions:

  1. With respect to the ‘Asking’ role, what was it like to ask someone “Why” three times? What happened?
  2. How did repeating the “why” question deepen your understanding of your discussion partner’s perspective?
  3. With respect to the ‘Replying’ role, what was it like to have someone ask you “Why” three times?
  4. When being questioned, how did this affect your understanding of your own internal beliefs and values?
  5. Next time you use this technique, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?
  6. What other thoughts and insights do you have about this technique?

Resource -  10 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters

  1. What activity causes you to feel like you are living life to the fullest?
  2. How would you define genius?
  3. How much does language affect our thinking?
  4. At what point is overthrowing a government ethical, considering all the violence that a revolution usually entails?
  5. What would be the most ethical way to give away five million dollars?
  6. Should there be limitations on the right to free speech?
  7. Should euthanasia be legal?
  8. What is the most recent success you’ve had?
  9. Who is the most successful person that you know personally?
  10.  If you could be the CEO of any company, what company would you choose?

Thanks to Conversation Starters World. [2]

References

  1. 1

    This Active Listening activity is modified from an extremely effective and useful Active Listening technique shared by Nick Read of ‘Training For Change’ during a corporate management short course, "Managing People – Enhancing Your Interpersonal Communications", via The University of Auckland, August 2006, www.training4change.co.nz.  Used with permission.

  2. 2
    Understanding a person's core beliefs and values helps us to understand the topic from the other person’s perspective. This is cognitive empathy, which is the goal of Active Listening. For more depth on seeking to understand other people, see the article titled “Want to Avoid Poor Discussions? Listen With Empathy,” www.goodlisteningskills.org/listen-with-empathy
  3. 3
    Special thanks to C.B.Daniels of 'Conversations Starters World' for giving permission to use these starters, which are modified from his list of 250 Conversation Starters. Head over to www.conversationstartersworld.com for 1000s more on all sorts of topics.
  4. 4
    This activity was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

5. Activity - The Emotion-Whisperer

Utilising Your Emotional Intelligence

Approximate Time Needed

Activity - 15 minutes

Ongoing Application - 2 to 3 minutes per discussion

In Brief

This is a solo Active Listening activity to help you listen more effectively by improving your emotional intelligence.

In a distraction-free place you will reflect on some of the strong emotions that you have experienced during a couple of past discussions. Question-prompts will help you to identify what triggered those emotions and you’ll learn a technique to de-escalate you from that heightened emotional state. Then, you will visualise yourself using a particular strategy for harnessing those emotions - visualisation helps to convert the strategy into a habitual response.

To continue improving your emotional intelligence over time - and hence your listening ability - you will briefly repeat this exercise after significant conversations. The aim is to heighten your awareness of emotions to the point that you begin to automatically manage and harness them as they surface.

Objectives

The objective of this Active Listening activity is to increase your emotional intelligence by heightening your awareness of emotions that emerge during discussions. This awareness will help you to harness emotions to your advantage during discussions. 

Why Is This Active Listening Activity Important?

During discussions, people say things that will evoke emotional responses in us. We can’t stop these emotions from appearing. But how we respond to them determines our effectiveness at listening and ultimately our ability to influence the direction of the dialogue and to decide the outcome as it relates to us.

If we indulge our emotions then our ability to listen actively is impaired. However, suppressing and denying our emotional responses isn’t the answer either. Instead, we retain our effectiveness, influence and self-determination by increasing our emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is firstly being aware of our own emotions and those of the speaker. Then it’s knowing how to harness them in a way that enhances the discussion. 

A Key Principle

At the height of a discussion it’s very difficult to apply new techniques such as harnessing your emotions while trying to stay calm and avoid reacting impulsively to what we’re hearing (and observing non-verbally). It’s a cognitive limitation of the way our brains are wired.

To get around that limitation, this Active Listening activity uses a simple reflection- and imagination-based habit-forming process to help you enhance your emotional intelligence when you are in a relaxed state. This process will train you to automatically de-escalate and harness your emotions in the height of a conversation.

What To Do

  1. Find a place free of distractions and sit down with a notepad and pen. 
    • As you work through this exercise record your thoughts on the notepad. Writing helps with the cognitive reinforcement process.
  2. Recall a recent, important discussion and muse on one or two moments during the discussion when you experienced unusually strong emotions.  Write down a couple of those emotions.
    • Here are some possible emotional reactions: confusion, a knot in your stomach, anger, indignation, offense, injustice, caution or wariness, joy, enthusiasm, a nebulous feeling that you ‘couldn’t quite define.’
  3. For each of those strong emotions, write down answers these questions:
    1. “Why did I react in such an [irritable, annoyed, frustrated] manner?”
    2. “What did they say that triggered that emotion?”
    3. “Was it triggered by any of their non-verbal gestures or expressions?”

Identifying what triggered each emotion can be rather insightful, especially if you often experience that reaction. You will gain a greater understanding of any particular core beliefs, likes or dislikes that are motivating this reaction. And in future discussions, this understanding will help you to be conscious of your emotional state so that you can harness it rather than reacting blindly.

  1. Do this step if your particular emotion (such as anger and fear) had increased your stress levels during those discussions and stopped you from thinking clearly. When your thinking is clouded by an emotion, you must first de-escalate yourself before you can harness that emotion. So, imagine yourself back in that discussion performing the following steps:
    1. Visualise yourself resisting saying anything spontaneous that might damage your relationship with your discussion partner.
    2. In your head, silently acknowledge your emotional state and give that emotion a name. For example, “Gee! His/her flippant response makes me so angry right now.” “Blimey, that news scares me!” “I feel like I want to cry.” Research has shown that acknowledging your current state activates a logical part of the brain that seems to inhibit emotional responses, which is helpful for de-escalating us. [1]
    3. Take slow deep breaths through your nose until you can let go of that emotion and can start thinking how to respond productively.
  2. Now imagine yourself harnessing those emotions. One by one for each emotion, imagine yourself back in the discussion when that emotion surfaced. Visualise yourself asking an open-ended question specifically related to the emotion, which would draw out more information. For example:
    1. Emotion - Offense. Possible imagined response: “Interesting! That’s provocative. How did you come to that view?”
    2. Emotion - Confusion. Possible imagined response: “How does your idea solve our situation? Tell me more.”
    3. Emotion - Knot in your stomach. Possible imagined response: “Based on what you’ve shared, your proposal [concerns, intrigues, perplexes] me. What are you planning in order to mitigate [xyz]?”
    4. Emotion - 'Nebulous' and indescribable. Possible imagined response: explore the situation. Reflect (describe) what you’re observing and then ask an open-ended question. For example, “Everyone seems very quiet. What are your thoughts regarding [the design of our new widget]?”

Ongoing Application

Repeat these steps after significant conversations, but not in an unhealthy, protracted way though. Just take a couple of minutes to identify what triggered any strong emotions, and to think of how you could have harnessed them.

Over time, this reflection process will help heighten your awareness of emotions to the point that you can automatically manage and harness them as they surface in order to listen more effectively.

References

  1. 1
    Goulston, Mark, “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone”, New York: American Management Association, 2010.
  2. 2
    This Active Listening activity is also a good emotional intelligence activity.
  3. 3
    This activity was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

Active Listening Games for Adults

6. Game - It’s How They Say It

Recognising and Interpreting Non-Verbal Cues

Approximate Time Needed

Setup - 5 minutes

Game - 10 minutes

Follow-up Discussion - 10 minutes

In Brief

This is a small group Active Listening game for adults. The participants are divided into groups of 5. [1]

Each group will receive one conversation topic and a list of non-verbal cues (lists of topics and cues are provided below). Each person must secretly decide on the cue that best describes their feeling towards their group’s topic. 

In turn, each participant is to imagine that they are in a discussion about the group‘s topic and do a 5-15 second mime of their chosen non-verbal cue in order to express how they feel about the topic. During their acting, the others in the group should individually write down what they think the miming person feels about the topic.

Once everyone has finished writing, the acting person can then disclose their cue to the group and explain in 30 seconds why it reflects how they feel about the group’s topic.

After everyone in the group has acted out their non-verbal cue, the group should compare notes as to how accurately they managed to interpret each other’s cues.

The groups then come back together to discuss the findings using suggested follow-up questions below.

Objectives

The objectives of this Active Listening game are to:

  • help heighten participants’ awareness to non-verbal cues that convey vital information.
  • emphasise that assumptions about the meaning of non-verbal cues will almost always be wrong to some extent
  • emphasise the importance of asking Active Listening questions about the speaker’s non-verbal cues to understand their true meaning rather than assuming we know what they mean. 
  • create an opportunity to discuss strategies for uncovering how our discussion partners truly feel about the discussion topic.

Why Is This Active Listening Game Important?

We need to actively listen with both our ears and our eyes. “Any message a person tries to get across usually has two components: the content of the message and the feeling or attitude underlying this content.” [2] That is, it's not what they say. It's how they say it.

Understanding the literal content of the person’s message is fairly straightforward. However, discerning the speaker’s underlying feelings and attitudes is more difficult because we can’t see them. They are hidden inside the speaker.

Occasionally, a speaker will say how they feel. Mostly though, we hint at our feelings and attitudes using more indirect non-verbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, abnormal silence, posture, tone of voice, volume, and rate of speech.

Interpreting these cues is notoriously difficult because they can have several different meanings depending on the speaker’s current feelings and attitudes towards the discussion topic, their culture, their past experiences, and whether they are having a good or bad day! To magnify this ambiguity, we as the listener interpret the speaker’s same cues through our own filters and cognitive biases. 

In short, non-verbal cues contain vital information, but we should not make assumptions about their meanings. 

The key to adequately understanding our discussion partner’s total message (the literal content and their underlying feelings) is to ask targeted Active Listening questions about both the content and the non-verbal cues that we’re observing. [3]

Setup

For this game, use the list of conversation topics and the list of non-verbal cues in the ‘Resources’ section below. Write the topics on seperate pieces of paper. Each group will receive one topic. Make multiple copies of the list of non-verbal cues. Each group will receive a copy of this list.

Have paper and pens available for the participants. They will need to make notes.

What To Do

  1. Split the participants into groups of 5.
  2. Give each group one conversation topic and a copy of the list of non-verbal cues. Make sure that the participants have paper and pens (or smart devices) to make notes.
  3. Allow 10 minutes for participants to do the following within their groups.
  4. Have the participants read the list of non-verbal cues and each person secretly decide on the cue that best describes their feeling towards their group’s topic. It’s okay if participants choose the same cue.
  5. In turn, each participant is to imagine that they are in a discussion about the group‘s topic and do a 5-15 second mime of their chosen non-verbal cue in order to express how they feel about the topic. But they must not say how they feel.
    1. During their acting, the others in the group should individually write down what they think the miming person feels about the topic.
    2. Once everyone has finished writing, the acting person can then disclose their cue to the group and take 30 seconds to explain why it reflects how they feel about the group’s topic.
    3. Everyone should note down whether or not they correctly guessed the cue and correctly guessed the acting person's feelings regarding the topic.
  6. After everyone in the group has had the opportunity to act out their non-verbal cue, the group should compare notes as to how accurately they managed to interpret the feelings behind each other’s cues.

Follow-up Discussion

Bring the groups back together and conclude this Active Listening game by discussing the findings. Here are some possible discussion questions to ask:

  • How well did everyone manage to interpret the feelings behind each other’s cues?
  • Were there different interpretations for the same cue? What were some of the differences?
  • What thoughts do you have about interpreting non-verbal cues?
  • Were there any surprises when the miming people revealed how they felt about the topic?
  • What could we do to better understand non-verbal cues that we observe?
  • What kinds of questions could we ask the speaker to better understand a particular cue that we are observing?
  • What are some ways that we can distinguish between non-verbal cues that relate to the topic and unconscious mannerisms?
  • Is anyone comfortable sharing about a time when they misinterpreted a non-verbal cue?
    • Follow-up question: Reflecting on that situation, what could you have done to better understand that cue?
    • Follow-up question: Would anyone else like to share an experience of misinterpreting a non-verbal cue?
  • Any other thoughts about this Active Listening game?

Resource - List of 11 Conversation Topics

Here are some conversation topics that the participants will have a wide range of feelings and attitudes towards. Give each group one of these topics, or use your own topics:

  • Climate change isn’t real
  • Humans are better at creation than destruction
  • Country and Western music is divinely inspired
  • Artificial intelligence is great
  • Activism and violence 
  • Art is essential for society
  • Social media is a necessary part of daily life
  • We need to use poison-bait aerial drops for pest control
  • Pandemics
  • We need to colonise other planets
  • Human nature is essentially bad

Resource - List of 11 Non-Verbal Cues

Give each group a copy of this list. Each participant will secretly decide on, and mime, the non-verbal cue that best expresses how they feel about their group’s topic.

  • Leaning back in a chair
  • Leaning forward in a chair
  • An animated or subdued gesture that conveys an emotion. For example, happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust, indifference, boredom, nervousness, confusion, feeling of guilt.
  • A facial expression that conveys an  emotion.
  • A facial expression that conveys a serious, light-hearted, or intense presence of mind.
  • Yawning
  • Nodding
  • Resting chin in hands
  • Tapping fingers on the table
  • Looking at your watch
  • Gazing around the room

References

  1. 1

    This Active Listening game for adults is adapted from the communication skills game called “You Don’t Say” in the article titled ‘39 Communication Games and Activities for Kids, Teens, and Students’ by Kelly Miller. https://positivepsychology.com/communication-activities-adults-students/

  2. 2

    Rogers, C., Farson, R. E., "Active Listening", Gordon Training Inc., www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/active-listening/, Extract from 1957 article.

  3. 3
    For more information on utilising both verbal and non-verbal content, see The GLS Project article, ‘Non-Verbal Cues Help Avoid Misunderstandings. Here’s How – Step 2’, www.goodlisteningskills.org/step2-listen-for-total-meaning/
  4. 4
    This game was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

7. Game - Tell Me What You See

Asking Questions to Seek Information and Clarify Understanding

Approximate Time Needed

Setup - 5 minutes

Game - 14 minutes

Follow-up Discussion - 15 minutes

In Brief

Thsi is a small group Active Listening game for adults. Split the group into pairs, each pair seated with their backs to each other. Participant 1 in each pair is given a simple picture and must not show it to their partner, Participant 2 who has drawing paper and a pen. Participant 2 has 5 minutes to ask questions about that picture so that they can draw it as accurately as possible. Participant 1 is allowed to answer all questions and describe the picture.

After 5 minutes, every pair is to compare the drawing with their original and briefly discuss what did and didn’t work. Then they will swap roles for another 5 minutes with a new picture.

Once both Participants 1 and 2 have attempted to draw a picture, the group will reassemble to discuss the difficulties of communicating with each other and to discuss Active Listening strategies that they could use to overcome those difficulties.

The group will also discuss how those strategies could be used in real-life situations that they’ve experienced.

Variation

Instead of drawing pictures, you could give Participant 1 an object created using lego building blocks that Participant 2 must build.

Objectives

The objectives of this Active Listening game are to:

  • develop the active listening skills of (1) asking questions to seek information and clarify understanding, and (2) listening attentively to the answers. These skills help reduce misunderstandings when communicating with others, such as in a work environment or project team.
  • promote collaboration. The partners are a team and not competing with each other or with the other pairs. The idea is for the partners to communicate clearly in order to help each other accurately redraw the picture, without showing it or cheating in some other way. Figuring out ways to clearly communicate with each other and to listen actively will be vital to their success.

Why Is This Active Listening Game Important?

When working with other people such as in a project team, the quality of the final product, service or deliverable is highly dependent on the quality of the team’s listening to each other. 

Poor listening results in misunderstandings.

Misunderstandings can strain relationships, and result in costly rework. Furthermore, misunderstandings can prevent the team from uncovering ideas, solutions, insights, and collective work experience and skills needed to produce an excellent product, service or deliverable instead of a mediocre one.

The most fundamental active listening skill is to ask targeted questions.

Preparation

For this game you will need the following:

  • A timer
  • A blank A4 sheet of paper for every participant to draw on.
  • Pens for drawing.
  • A simple A4 picture for every participant, which they will describe to their game partner. 
    • Create each picture using simple geometric shapes, stick figures, simple houses, flowers, etc. Put the shapes at different positions and angles. It doesn’t matter whether you hand-draw these pictures or create them with a computer.  
    • See the Resource section below for downloadable examples.
    • Don’t make the pictures too detailed. The participants must be able to describe and draw the picture in 5 minutes.
    • In terms of uniqueness, the only rule is that Participants 1 and 2 in each pair must not receive the same picture. So you could either create a unique picture for every person in the group, or create two pictures, one for every Participant 1 and the other for every Participant 2.

What To Do

  1. Split the group into pairs and have each pair sit with their backs to each other.
  2. Give Participant 1 a simple picture. Ensure that Participant 2 does not see it.
  3. Give Participant 2 a blank sheet of paper and a pen for drawing.
  4. Start a 5 minute timer.
    1. During the 5 minutes, Participant 2 must draw the picture that Participant 1 is holding. They can ask any questions they like and Participant 1 is to describe the picture as prompted by those questions. The goal is to collaborate and help each other, not to compete.
    2. The only rule is that Participant 2 must not see the picture (or a photo of the picture). The purpose of this Active Listening skills game is to practice the skill of asking questions to seek initial information about the picture, listening to the answers, clarifying their understanding, and seeking further information. So, there is no benefit in cheating.
  5. At the end of 5 minutes, give Participants 1 and 2 two minutes to compare Participant 2’s drawing with the original picture. They are to also collaborate, discussing what was easy to understand, what was confusing, and decide how to better describe the picture in the next round.
  6. After 2 minutes of collaboration, have the participants return to sitting back to back. 
  7. Swap roles. Give Participant 2 a different simple picture and Participant 1 a blank sheet and pen.
  8. Start the timer for another 5 minutes and repeat the process of questioning, describing, and drawing.
  9. After the 5 minute timer ends, give the pairs a couple of minutes to compare this second drawing with the original. Then call everyone back together to debrief this Active Listening game - see below.

Follow-up Discussion

Finish the Active Listening game with a group discussion. Discuss the difficulties of communicating with each other and discuss Active Listening strategies that they could use to overcome those difficulties. Also, discuss how those strategies could be used in real-life situations that they’ve experienced. 

Here are some possible discussion questions:

  • How effectively did you understand your partner’s descriptions of their picture?
  • What difficulties did you encounter?
  • Was your understanding of the description you received the same as your partner’s understanding of the description they relayed.
    • Follow-up question: What could you have done to overcome any differences in understanding?
  • How did you clarify what you were hearing?
    • Follow-up question: What kinds of clarifying questions did you ask?
  • How did you increase your understanding of your partner’s picture?
    • Follow-up question: What kinds of questions did you ask in order to seek more information?
  • How did you confirm that you’d correctly understood your partner’s description?
    • Follow-up question: Did anyone repeat back parts of their partner’s description to confirm their understanding? How effective was this technique?
    • Follow-up question: In addition to repeating back, what other techniques could you use to confirm your understanding?
  • How did you utilise the 2 minute ‘collaboration’ pause?
    • Follow-up question: What benefits did you get from it?
    • Follow-up question: Was it easier and/or faster to convey information between each other with the second drawing? Why? 
  • Additional optional questions:
    • Were you distracted by the other pairs and if so how? How did you cope with the distraction?
    • How much were you influenced by the other pairs? Was their influence helpful or misleading? 
  • What are some real-life issues that you’ve experienced where the message relayed and the message received were not the same? 
    • Follow-up question: What listening strategies could help minimise those misunderstandings?
  • Any other thoughts about this Active Listening game?

Resource - Printable A4 Simple Pictures

For this Active Listening game you can create your own simple pictures, or use the pictures below. Click each image to download an A4 PDF version of the picture.

Resource for Active Listening Game 7 called "Tell Me What You See." This is simple picture #1, which participants must draw from a verbal description. The image is comprised of concentric triangles, concentric squares, a spiral, a star, a heart, and a circle. Click the image to download an A4 pdf version of the image.
Resource for Active Listening Game 7 called "Tell Me What You See." This is simple picture #2, which participants must draw from a verbal description. The image is comprised of concentric triangles, concentric squares, a spiral, a star, a heart, and an oval. Click the image to download an A4 pdf version of the image.

References

  1. 1
    This Active Listening game is adapted from the well-used 'Description' communication skills game.
  2. 2
    This game was originally published in the article '7 Unique Active Listening Games, Exercises and Activites for Adults' by Andrew G. Ward,  at www.goodlisteningskills.org, © 2020. To further improve your listening skills visit The GLS Project, www.goodlisteningskills.org.

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Hello, I’m Andrew Ward and I’m the Kiwi guy writing most of the stuff on this website. You can read more about my story here.

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