A key skill of an effective Academic Tutor is to establish and maintain open channels of communication. Students value a Tutor who they can talk to and who they know is really listening to them. Being listened to, and heard accurately, can help a student think clearly and this might be all they need to help them with their next steps.
Ten steps to Effective Listening
Step 1: Face the speaker and make eye contact.
It might be tempting to just finish an email, or gaze out of the window when your tutee is talking to you, but unless they feel that they’ve got your full attention they are unlikely to open up to you. Show that you respect them by turning to face them and putting aside distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Some tutees may find it difficult to make eye contact with you, if they are nervous or shy, but you should still turn towards them an appear open.
Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
Once you’ve made eye contact you can relax – you don’t have to keep staring at them. The important thing is to be attentive, and not let yourself get distracted by background noise, your tutee’s mannerisms, or your own thoughts.
Step 3: Keep an open mind.
Listen without judging or jumping to conclusions. Don’t try and finish your tutees sentences for them, even if it seems as if they’re struggling to find the right words.
Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.Don’t spend the time planning what you’re going to say next – think only about what the other person is saying. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.
Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
If your tutee is talking through a problem they are having, or a situation that they’re in, try to refrain from jumping in with possible solutions. Once they’ve finished describing what’s going on, and you’re sure you’ve understood, then if the tutee is willing you can start working together to think about answers. By jumping in too early you may miss the full picture, and also give your tutee the impression that you weren’t really listening.
Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, it’s always a good idea to ask for clarification, but rather than interrupt, it’s best to wait until the speaker pauses. You could then say something like, “Could we go back a second – I’m not sure I understood what you meant about….”
Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
Make sure the questions that you ask while listening are to ensure your own understanding, and don’t lead off on a tangent. Once your tutee has finished explaining the situation then you can go on to ask other questions to explore the issue in more depth.
Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
Try to have empathy with your tutee and understand what it feel like to be in their situation. It’s not easy, but it can be very helpful both for listening effectively and for helping your tutee solve their problems and reach their potential.
Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
Give the speaker some proof that you are listening, and following what’s being said. This might be by reflecting their feelings (“I can see that you are confused.”), occasionally paraphrasing what’s just been said, or by just nodding and showing understanding through appropriate facial expressions.
Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.
Sometimes your tutee might be able to explain a situation, problem or need very clearly to you. Other times what they say may only be part of the story, and it’s important to look at other clues. How do they sound? How do they look? Does what their saying match with their expression and body language? If not, you may need to ask further questions to get to the bottom of what is going on.