Communication Skills

Active Listening

When an angel listens, they receive information through the spoken word.  The unskilled angel may hear, but not really listen. They may  “turn off” their listening skills if they hear something they don’t agree with.  Other times the unskilled angel doesn’t listen to understand, they listen to respond.  They are concentrating on what they will say when the mother has finished.  The result can be frustrating for both the angel and the mother.  Instead of focusing on what to say to the mother, best practice is that the skilled angel express non-judgmental acceptance.  The Angel's own feelings or responses to the mother are not needed at this time; in fact, the opposite is 
needed.  Focus instead on the mother’s story as she reveals facts and feelings.  The skilled angel can think along with the mother and thus listen actively rather than passively. 
In active listening the angel listens for both content and feelings. Active listening refers to a particular type of listening, listening that leads to a demonstration that the mother has been understood.  The angel demonstrates understanding by summarizing the mother’s content and reflecting her feelings.  Listening to understand the mother’s message from her point of view requires paying attention to both the content and the feelings of her message.  To this end, an angel must prepare to listen by learning communication skills. 

You must not only listen to the words but also to the feelings behind those words.  You must see the world through the mother’s eyes, suspending judgment in order to understand the mother’s thoughts and feelings as she experiences them.  Good listeners reflect the actual situation rather than create a different one.  

Listening for Content- This is usually the easiest type of listening.  It is listening to, paying attention to and trying to understand the words the mother says.  It is simply hearing her message.   

Listening for Feelings- This approach helps when anyone is seeking help for personal crisis.  It shows the mother that her opinions and feelings matter.  Here the angel tries to capture the emotional state of the mother.  The goal of reflection is to help the mother come to a deeper understanding not only of  herself, but also how she can take control of her situation and make good decisions moving forward. 

Listening for feelings helps the Angel understand the feelings behind the mother’s statements. When we seek to understand her feelings, we guard against making inaccurate assumptions and comments based on those assumptions. As Angels, we are sincerely interested in the mother in our care, not merely in her choices.

How does the Angel do this?  Here is how.  Restate the mother’s content and reflect her feelings.

The benefits of doing this are: 

< it identifies the mother’s emotions, validates them, and gives her a new perspective and insight,

< it gives the angel a chance to interpret the mother’s emotions and either confirm them or modify her interpretation,

< builds trust and rapport;

< lets the mother know that the angel is trying to understand and accept her feelings,

< gives the mother the freedom to express her true feelings without shame, deal with them, and experience healing, and

< moves the level of communication from the surface to the root of the problem.

Here are some examples to explain the difference between actively listening for content or feelings.

Example #1- This is nonsensical, but if a computer or a robot stated, “I had three abortions and I plan to kill my fourth child by abortion next week,” the content would simply be, “I had three abortions and I plan to kill my fourth child by abortion next week.”  There would not be any feelings to reflect.

Example #2- If a pregnant mother said, “I had three abortions and I plan to kill my fourth child by abortion next week.” There would be feelings associated with her statement.  Suppose the mother said this while she was crying.  What might be her feelings?  Suppose she had a pentagram tattooed on her head.  What might be her feelings?  Suppose she stared into your eyes with the look that could kill.  What might be her feelings?  Suppose she added to the statement, “I can’t let anyone know I’m pregnant.  My dad will disown me because he is a TV evangelist.”  What might be her feelings?

Paraphrasing Content and Reflecting Feelings

Demonstrating to the mother that you actually listened to her can be easily accomplished by paraphrasing her content and reflecting her feelings.

Paraphrasing Content-  Here the angel simply attempts to communicate that she has been listening by summarizing what the speaker is saying.  You translate the mother’s ideas into your own words. 

When paraphrasing, the angel repeats what the mother says almost word for word. This may feel silly at first, but don’t think you are “parroting” what the mother says. The angel can also paraphrase what the mother says, using her own words.  This is particularly helpful if the mother  gives a lot of information all at once. The angel helps clarify the mother’s thoughts by focusing on the most important parts of the message and restating them in her own words.  Paraphrase the central focus of the conversation.  

When restatement is used properly, it is very effective and not even noticed by the mother. Paraphrasing assures the mother that the angel is listening and cares to listen.  It helps the angel “stay with” the mother.   It lets the mother hear what she has just said and helps her evaluate her own statements.  It encourages the mother to elaborate on what she has said.  Use a concerned, but casual, tone of voice when restating or rephrasing. This encourages the mother to keep talking, and allows her to correct any misperceptions made by the angel.

Paraphrasing is an especially productive way to probe a speaker for more information.  When paraphrasing, the angel should probe rather than evaluate, be specific rather than general and take into account the mother’s needs.  Paraphrasing helps double check your interpretation for accuracy.

Reflecting Feelings- If your feedback is empathetic, you are probably being nonjudgmental as you listen.  Empathetic listeners focus on the mother’s important themes and feelings.  Empathetic listeners also demonstrate a good grasp of paraphrasing because their feedback reflects both the content and feelings of the mother.

Examples of paraphrasing content and reflecting feelings:

Mother: “I think I might be pregnant.”
Paraphrasing Content: “So you think you might be pregnant.”
Reflecting Feelings: Based on the mother’s body language, “Being pregnant frightens you” or possibly, “You look very confused.”
 
Mother:   “I was planning to go to college.”
Paraphrasing Content:-“Oh, you were planning to go to college.”
Reflecting Feelings: Based on the mother’s body language, “You seem very excited about going to college.”

Mother:   “My folks would just freak out if they knew I was pregnant.  Dad would start yelling and throwing stuff and Mom would just sit and cry her eyes out.  She’ll probably never talk to me again!”
Paraphrasing Content: “In other words, your parents would be pretty upset if they knew you were pregnant.”
Reflecting Feelings: Based on the mother’s body language, “All that seems overwhelming to you” or possibly, “I know it seems overwhelming.  You don’t have all the answers.  Neither do I.” 

Mother:   “I guess I’ll have to tell everybody.  First, there’s Tim; I mean, he is the father.  Then I’ve got to tell my parents; I dread that!  Then I’ve got to tell Jill; she’s my best friend.  She’s probably the only one who’ll understand.”
Paraphrasing Content: “I hear you saying you want to tell your boyfriend, your parents, and your best friend that you’re pregnant.”
Reflecting Feelings: “I heard you say that there are some people who you would feel comfortable telling them you were pregnant” or possibly, “I know we’ve discussed many topics. One that I hear you struggling with is your father.” Asking Good Questions

Questioning involves asking for additional information to clarify your idea of the mother’s message.  The key element of questions is to request the speaker elaborate on information already given.  Good questions can help the mother think about her problems and understand her problem better. 

When you question rather than tell, you empower the mother to begin solving problems on her own, rather than solve them for her.  Good questions also provide the angel with important information the mother might not otherwise volunteer.

Open ended questions are designed to encourage the mother to open up to the angel.  Everyone likes to tell stories, even painful ones.  Open ended questions are invitations, not commands.  They help the mother to extend and elaborate on her beliefs and feelings, not dismiss them with a pat, one-word answer.  Generally, open-ended questions begin with “How” “Which” or “What.” There are exceptions, for example, another good technique is “Tell me about…” 

Examples of open ended questions:

 “How do you feel about your pregnancy?”
 “What makes you feel that you’re not cut out to be a mother?”
 ‘What were the circumstances that led up to him leaving you?”
 “Which living conditions do you think you would like most?”
 “How can I help you to tell your parents that you’re pregnant?”
 “How did you first learn about open adoption?”
 “Tell me about the time when you . . .”
 “Tell me where you see yourself a month from now.  What steps will you take to get there?”  
“What do you see as some chances for reestablishing a relationship with your parents?”
“Who are some people who might help you do this?”

Giving Feedback

An angel can establish rapport, and encourage the mother to continue speaking, by providing good feedback.  Giving feedback is important in maintaining an open and honest relationship.  The angel uses her skill when she shares her own feelings, positive or negative, with the mother.  Good feedback is constructive.  Bad feedback, which is covered in the “Barriers to Listening” section, is destructive.

To be effective, feedback must focus on a specific behavior.  Mothers who in the past have had no real guidance from their peers or parents welcome someone who cares enough to be honest and “up front” with them.

Best practice is to use constructive feedback statements.  These focus on the speaker and always begin with “I.” Positive feelings expressed as “I” statements may be the reinforcement a mother needs to make the best possible choices for herself and her baby.  Even negative feelings expressed as “I” statements, when spoken in love, can help a mother to face an unpleasant or difficult truth about herself or her behavior.  Scripture tells us that there are times when challenging someone about wrongdoing can be an act of love.  The important thing to remember is that the angel making the statement claims responsibility for her feelings rather than placing the blame on the other person!

An “I” statement has three parts:
1. I feel
2.when you
3. because 
Here is how it works:

 “I feel hurt when you speak sarcastically to me because it feels like a put-down.”

 “I feel good when you take the time to call me because it shows that you are interested in this relationship, too.”

 “I feel worried when you don’t keep your appointments at the pre-natal clinic because your health and the baby’s health are at risk.”

 “I feel annoyed when you ask me every day to run your errands because you’re capable of handling some of your responsibility.”

 “I feel disappointed when you don’t follow through on your promises because I want to trust you.”

When we challenge a mother out of love, we ask them to examine their actions so they can clearly see the consequences and hopefully change negative or destructive behavior. This is not a case of “holier-than-thou” pride, it is an act of charity.

The motive for providing feedback must be love.  If other motivation such as anger, frustration, scorn, or the need to be superior exists, the person will feel punished or rejected, and the confrontation will not be effective.

The goal for providing feedback must be to benefit. Verbal challenging ultimately must benefit, not condemn.  As the mothers accept the truth of their situation and turn from their destructive behaviors, they can begin to live a more positive lifestyle.

The context for providing feedback  must be trust. Verbal challenging succeeds only if the Gabriel angel shows the mother love and trust.  In this atmosphere, she will know she was challenged out of concern, even if she disagrees.

Providing feedback for negative behavior:  Is the mother aware of the risks of her behavior?  This type of feedback focuses on the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of negative behavior.

Providing feedback for negative perceptions:  Does the mother face life realistically? This type of feedback focuses on her perceptions of herself and her situation as it really is, not as she wants it to be.

Providing feedback for negative attitudes:  This type of feedback focuses on the mother’s attitudes about herself and others, and tries to replace a possible “victim” status with one that stresses strength and personal growth. 
Validation

Here the angel demonstrates not only that she has understood the mother but also that her point of view is important and that her feelings are understandable.  Validation is different than agreement which occurs when the angel agrees with the mother’s position.  First and foremost, angels represent the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Angels never compromise those teachings, but they can validate that the mother is really feeling bad, etc.  Never be dishonest just to pacify a mother.

“I appreciate your honesty.  I can tell it’s been very painful to share these things.  I know you’re trying to make a good decision.”

“I know it’s been hard finding people you can trust in your life.  I appreciate you trusting me enough to share your deep hurt and reaching out for help for yourself and your baby.  That takes courage.”

Study the following chart to learn those behaviors which validate the mother. A Spectrum of Validation and Invalidation

16 Loving unconditionally
15 Loving
14 Being loyal
13 Agreeing
12 Validating Validation = healing
11 Being real
10 Accepting
9 Identifying
8 Mirroring
7 Being supportive
6 Understanding
5 Hearing
4 Being attentive Safe
3 Making eye contact
2 Being interested
1 Listening

------- Being Neutral -------

-1 Not listening
-2 Uninterested
-3 No eye contact
-4 Not being attentive

-5 Not hearing Unsafe
-6 Not understanding
-7 Not being supportive
-8 Not identifying
-9 Not accepting
-10 Unhealthy Teasing
-11 Not being real
-12 Invalidating Invalidation = wounding
-13 Neglecting
-14 Abandoning
-15 Disagreeing
-16 Rejecting
-17 Betraying
-18 Attacking

Gabriel angels are not doormats to be walked upon.  Never allow a mother to be insulting or disrespectful.  Doing so will only condone her behavior and reinforce her irresponsibility.  Be honest with the mother if she deliberately hurts you. You treat her with respect because she is a child of God.  You expect the same treatment from her because so are you. Body Language

We know how important words are, but we also know that they can be shields for what is really going on inside the person.  Body posture, gestures, voice tone, and inflection give us the real clues to help us answer the question, “How is this person really feeling?” Unless we understand body language, we can’t accurately reflect feelings.

Remember!  Most people really hear only about 25% of what someone says to them. Be tuned to the other components of interpersonal communication to better understand the needs and true feelings of the mother.

Emotions and feelings are more accurately communicated nonverbally than with words. Whereas words are best for communicating thoughts, nonverbal communication is best for conveying emotions and feelings.  This is because a mother can more easily control what she says.  Nonverbal behaviors are not easily controlled consciously.

Be mindful of the mother’s personal space.  This refers to an invisible bubble of space.  The distance varies from person to person but if you cross this invisible line, you may make the mother uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, touching the mother by a pat on the back or holding her hand when she is crying may be the very best thing to establish a helping relationship.  Use prudence in all cases.

Barriers to Listening

DISTRACTIONS- There are two types of distractions-internal and external.  Both interfere with concentration and make it difficult to listen.  External distractions are easier to control.  These include noises, etc.  Internal distractions can occur when the angel is caught up in personal problems that the mother triggers, which diverts attention from actively listening.   
 
EMOTIONAL REACTIONS- The angel’s emotional responses may interfere with active listening. Therefore, to improve your perception of the mother, you must strive to increase your empathy.  Empathy is your ability to experience the crisis from the mother’s point of view.

DEFENSIVENESS- The practice of mentally debating with the mother is a significant barrier to listening.  If the angel gets caught up in a rebuttal of the mother’s story, you will probably miss the rest of what she has to say.

FATIGUE- Active listening requires energy. Make sure you are well rested.

DAYDREAMING- We all daydream.  When you catch yourself daydreaming, immediately decide to redirect your focus to the mother’s story.  

LISTENING ONLY FOR FACTS- All factual stories have a myriad of emotions attached to them.

SNAP JUDGMENTS- Conclusions reached rapidly without much forethought. You must strive to remain open minded.  Most people would agree that it is important to understand the speaker’s ideas before judging them.  Despite this common sense, some people will form snap judgments, evaluating mothers before hearing them out.  This tendency is greatest when the mother’s ideas conflict with the angels.  Angels are encouraged to speak in a non blaming way and focus on the issue and not the person.

CLOSE ENDED QUESTIONS- These questions can be answered “Yes” or “No.”  Such questions are easy to answer and involve little risk. 

 “Are you upset with being pregnant?”
 “Do you wish this had never happened?”
“You really don’t think you should keep the baby, do you?”
 “You knew he didn’t really want to marry you, didn’t you?”

 “WHY QUESTIONS”-Why questions avoid the here and now and foster guilt and justification in the mother.  Often the angel would be viewed as judgmental since the feeling of judgment is elicited in the mother.  These questions imply judgment and can make the mother defensive.  A mother is likely to respond to a “why” question with a “because” answer which she thinks is obvious to everyone.
 
“Why keep calling him?
“Why did you decide to move in with your boyfriend?”

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS- These are really several questions in one rambling sentence. They confuse and intimidate, and often can put the mother on the spot.

Do you realize what a mess you’re in, and where will you live,  and if you find a place, who will help you pay the rent, and do you think money grows on trees etc.,?

Destructive Feedback- This type of feedback focuses on the listener and takes the form of “you” statements.  Negative feelings expressed in “you” statements often take the form of criticism, blame, judgment, or sarcasm.  These types of statements will discourage communication and can hurt the mother.  Stay away from the following types of comments. These can really stall the communication process.  A skilled angel would not do these.

Examples of destructive feedback:
 “You disgust me with all that profanity you use!”
 “You disappoint me every time!”
 “You are impossible to talk to!”
 “You just don’t care about your baby’s health.”
 “You’re doing this just to hurt me!”

Arguing, preaching:
 “Do you realize . . .?”    
 “If you weren’t so stubborn, you’d see that . . .” 
“Yes, but have you forgotten. . . ?”

Judging, blaming, criticizing:
 “You are a bad person . . .”   
 “You’re not thinking straight . . .” 
“You’re leading a sinful life . . . ”

Interpreting, analyzing, diagnosing:
 “What you need is . . . ”   
“The problem with you is . . .” 
 “You’re just trying to get attention . . .”

Reassuring, placating, excusing:
 “It’s not that bad . . .”    
 “Don’t worry . . .”
“You don’t need to feel that way . . .”

Ordering, threatening, warning:
 “If you don’t, then . . .”    
 “I said you shouldn’t . . .”
“If you do that, you know what will happen . . . ”

Moralizing, urging, providing solutions: 
 “You ought to . . .”  
“What I would do is . . .” 
 “It would be best if you  . . .”

Diverting, digressing, shifting:
 “Let’s not discuss it . . .”    
 “That’s not important right now . . .” 
 “That’s not really the issue here . . .”

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