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Good Samaritans Volunteers Helping Victims Program Handbook and Training Guide
Top navigation About This Guide Message From the Director Acknowledgments About the Authors Related Links
Photo: Man and woman looking out of a broken window.

Publication Date: April 2009

minus iconFilling a Void—Origins of the Program
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minus iconVolunteers: Recruiting,
Screening, and Training

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minus iconModule 2: The Victim Experience
Module 3: Basic Skills for Volunteers
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Module 3: Basic Skills for Volunteers

Five Basic Listening Skills

1. Encourage

Encouragers—or conversational "feeders"—are active listening tools used to encourage the speaker to continue talking and let the speaker know that you are listening.

We all do this naturally, especially when talking on the telephone to friends and family. An "uh-huh" here and an "ohhhh" there in a conversation lets the speaker know that even though you may not be talking, you are still listening.

In addition to utterances such as "uh-huh," "hmmm," and "ohhhh," you can encourage a crime victim to keep talking by simply repeating a word or a phrase she or he just used, especially if the conversation seems to be trailing off.

For instance, the crime victim says: "I had just left for a few minutes to go to the store." You could say, "Store?" to encourage the victim to say more about the trip to the store.

Or if the speaker starts to say, "There have been a lot of break-ins in the neighborhood this year," you could draw the speaker out by repeating, "Break-ins in the neighborhood?"

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2. Paraphrase

When you paraphrase what another person has just told you, you show him or her that you clearly understand what was just said, that you really get the content of the words.

To paraphrase, you listen for the important words and phrases used by the victim and repeat them back in a slightly different way.

Sometimes paraphrasing is merely "parroting" what the other person says. This can be useful when you are caught off guard and don't yet grasp the deeper meaning of the crime victim's words but can become annoying if used too much.

A better and more sophisticated way of paraphrasing is to give the crime victim a one- to three-sentence wrap-up.

You may want to say, "Let me see if I understand what you just told me . . ." and then paraphrase, or you may want to work the paraphrasing into your responses in a more subtle fashion.

For instance, the crime victim says "I've been widowed for 5 years and my children live in another state, and I don't know how to fix my broken door so I will feel safe again." The Good Samaritan might say, "You are alone, then," or "You need some help repairing your locks."

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3. Reflect

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Name the feeling you perceive in the speaker:

"It sounds like you were really frightened."

"You seem confused about what to do."

"You look troubled."

"You are really worried about that."

"I hear you saying that you feel guilty."
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"Reflecting" feelings demonstrates that you understand what the crime victim is going through. It helps the victim identify feelings and allows him or her to "vent."

This active listening technique is challenging for most people. As a society, we put much more emphasis on thinking than feeling.

Learning how to reflect back the feelings of others just takes practice. You can start by building your "Feeling Word" vocabulary.

4. Summarize

A summary covers more territory than a paraphrase. When you summarize, you let the crime victim know that you understand not only the content but also the feelings he or she has expressed.

Think of a summary as a "big paraphrase," covering several points and clarifying issues.

You may want to begin your summary by saying, "Let me see if I have this right . . ." or "What I understand you to say is . . ."

When you summarize an entire conversation on both levels—factual and emotional—you help crystallize the experience for the crime victim. Together—the victim as the speaker and you as the active listener—you paint the big picture and help the victim to get a better grasp of the problem.

Really listening to another person is, unfortunately, rare. That's why it is so powerful.

5. Empathize

When we empathize, we feel with someone. We step into the other person's shoes; get in touch with that individual's feelings.

Good Samaritans try to get a clear understanding of the crime victim's personal perspective, then convey that understanding back to the victim so the victim knows that he or she has been heard and understood.

Being empathetic is not the same as being sympathetic. Sympathy involves YOUR feelings, as in feeling sorry for the crime victim. A crime victim doesn't need sympathy; a crime victim needs your empathy . . . or understanding.

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