Bryan Hanson, Assistant Director at the Werner Institute of Creighton University a couple of months gave a presentation on, "An Introduction to Active Listening Skills" in which he provided the audience with the acronym F.E.A.R.S.
F.E.A.R.S. provides a quick reference to techniques that can help you when are faced with varying types of conflict. The following is based on notes I took and a hand out that was distributed*:
Focus- Active listening requires your full attention. If you're thinking about:
- The groceries you need to pick up at the store,
- The next point you're going to make or
- Trying to figure out why the speaker is wrong in their understanding, you're not really listening.
When focused on the conversation and truly present you provide a highly conducive environment for the conflict resolution process to be successful.
Empathize- Empathizing is the ability to put yourself in an other's situation and understand HOW THEY FEEL. Empathy focuses on the emotions of the speaker. Not only are you identifying the emotions, but you are also gauging the intensity of the emotions.
For example, there is a difference between someone being "upset" and "extremely distraught" or between being "slightly annoyed" and "really bothered". part of your success and credibility when you empathize will turn on your ability to make distinctions in the gradation of the emotion. By doing so, you let the speaker know you really understand them.
Often, people are scared to empathize during a conflict because they think it means that they are agreeing with the speaker. It is crucial to understand that your ability to empathize successfully does not mean you agree with the speaker's emotions, it simply means that you are able to identify and understand how the speaker feels.
Ask open-ended questions- An open-ended question gives the speaker an opportunity an opportunity to answer the question in narrative form, instead of just saying "yes/no". it provides the listener with more information than a close-ended one. During conflict resolution, part of the goal is to gather information. by framing your questions in a way that is more likely to elicit information, you are improving your chances of understanding what lies underneath the surface of the conflict.
Reframe- Reframing provides an opportunity to demonstrate empathy to the speaker's emotions allowing the conversation to move forward. Reframing entails quick sentences that acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling without attributing any judgment to the stated emotions. An effective reframe redirects the conversation in a constructive direction, opens up possibilities, deescalates the tension in the room and illustrates that you are present and engaged in the dialogue.
Summarize- one way to let the speaker know that you have heard them and understood them is to summarize (paraphrase) what the speaker has said. You are not simply mimicking their words- you are internalizing the essence of what's been said and giving it back to them in your own words.
* Note: During the talk and it was stated on the handout it was partially adapted from material produced by EBCM in 2003.