As you have seen so far in this chapter, active listening is a skill that can be practiced. Nevertheless, no matter how much we have practiced and have become better listeners, at times we will still have problems. Paraphrasing is a most valuable tool for understanding, especially in your profession. Questioning elicits the information that you need, but your reference points may not be the same as the other person’s. This is why paraphrasing becomes so important. As telecommunicators, you may get calls that give directions such as “at the large oak tree, you’ll turn right. You’ll see some cows in the field. Turn right after the fence ends. Go to the duck pond, turn left, and drive until you see the old, red barn.” This might seem straightforward enough to the caller, but picture these directions at night with a pouring rainstorm! Questioning the caller might not produce the desired result; it is obvious that the caller’s reference points are not the same as yours. Paraphrasing the information is going to get better results. “The large oak tree is at the intersection of Angel and Ponder roads, right?” might get you the results that you need.
Paraphrasing does not mean that you should parrot the key points. You want to put what you have heard into your own words. That way you, as well as the speaker, know whether you have understood what had been said. Even when your paraphrasing is inaccurate, the other person will get a chance to correct any misconceptions that you have. An added plus to paraphrasing is that the actual act of trying to understand one another prevents frustration or hostile behavior.
Another type of listening is that of supportive listening. We have discussed this in the first part of the chapter. However, I would like to point out that for telecommunicators, this is an especially important aspect of listening. When you respond on the job, you have to analyze, judge, advise, question, support, prompt, and paraphrase in a very short time. You are placed in a situation that is stressful for both the caller and you. You have to choose very quickly the appropriate response that fits your personal style, the situation at hand, and the person with the problem. Your agency has a Training Manual and a Standard Operating Manual that will give you a list of questions and responses which you follow while applying your active listening skills and techniques.
I have listed two web links for further study and your enjoyment.