Communication skills

The ability to communicate with your partner is the key to any successful relationship. The following information is provided as guidance on some communication techniques you can use while providing telephone befriending support.

Asking questions

The art of questioning lies in knowing which questions to ask and when to ask them. Here are a few dos and don’ts.

  • Do focus on the other person’s agenda
  • Do ask questions that serve a purpose and encourage the other person to expand or explore
  • Do reflect back on what has been said to confirm that you have understood
  • Do use questions with care – they can alter the balance of who is in control and divert the other person from what they were prepared to say or share with you
  • Don’t ask too many questions or multiple questions – leaving the other person feeling threatened or pressurised into saying more than they feel comfortable with
  • Don’t ask leading questions – where it is the questioner taking the lead and imposing his or her views on the other person e.g. “Don’t you think it would be better if you did this?”

Using open questions

Open questions invite the other person to say more and help them to communicate personal experiences, behaviours or feelings more freely. They can encourage someone to engage in a deeper response or exploration of what they want to communicate.

Examples include:

  • “How is everything going?”
  • “What would you like to happen next?”
  • “Would you like to tell me more?”

Using closed questions

Closed questions reduce options for free expression and invite a limited response e.g. “Have you had a good day?” rather than “How was your day?” They can be used most successfully when you want to clarify something that has been said previously and you want a definitive answer. For instance, “Did you say that you enjoyed wind-surfing?”. You can also lead the direction of a conversation by following up on the “yes” answers. They are most effective when specific information is required, e.g. “Is this a convenient moment for you?”

Listening skills

When people listen to each other there are three types of listening.

Marginal Listening, when you are:

  • preoccupied with your own thoughts or feelings
  • misunderstanding most of what is being said

Evaluative Listening, when you are:

  • concentrating on your response
  • making quick judgements about the person
  • evaluating what is being said rather than listening
  • finishing the person’s sentences for them
  • distracted by emotional words

Active Listening, when you are:

  • giving sincere responses
  • concentrating on what the person is saying
  • giving accurate feedback to the person
  • controlling your impulse to finish their sentences
  • trying to see the person’s point of view

Positive communications

Active listening involves not only hearing the words being said, but actually taking them on-board and making positive interpretations about what the speaker is feeling, thinking and responding to, during their conversation with you.

Some things to keep in mind when you are actively listening to another person are:

Prepare yourself. Active listening means being ‘tuned in’ to the person who is speaking and allowing them the time and space to get their point across to you.

Try not to talk over the top of the other person. Allowing space for both of you to express yourselves is vital in building rapport and establishing a positive relationship.

Remove distractions. Focus your mind on what is being said, don’t doodle, tap, shuffle papers etc.

Try to understand, and relate to the other person’s point of view; even if it is not one you share. Empathy and compassion provide a positive platform for sharing of information without fear of a negative or judgmental response.

Be patient. A pause, even a long pause, doesn’t always mean that the speaker has finished. Silence is also okay. Don’t feel as though you have to fill all the silent ‘spaces’. Allow the conversation to ebb and flow as necessary.

Avoid personal prejudice, discrimination or judgement. Appreciate that the person you are speaking to will have their own range of opinions, values and experiences and that these may be different to your own.

Listen for tone of voice. Volume, pitch and tone all reveal how someone is reacting to what is being said.

Listen for the message, not just words. You want to get the whole picture, not just bits and pieces.

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