Working with Students

Listening Tips for Mentors


Listening is a critical communication skill for ASPIRE volunteers. A general rule is to talk about one-third of the time and listen the other two-thirds. The following are guidelines for effective listening skills:

  • Use your body posture to indicate you are listening actively. Young people are quick to pick up nonverbal messages so sit in a relaxed position. Don't fold arms across your chest, frown, stare, turn away or tap feet or fingers. 
  • Make eye contact as an effective nonverbal means of showing that attention is focused on the student. Be aware to whether eye contact is making the student feel uncomfortable. In some cultures it is rude to make direct eye contact with an adult. A young person from such a culture may not return eye contact, but will look past the mentor, at the floor, or shift their gaze around the room. 
  • Nod and Say: "uh-huh", or "I see", or "really"? These minimal responses demonstrate active listening and encourage the student to continue without inhibiting their talking.
  • Do not interrupt and do not plan what to say next while the student is talking. Concentrate on what the student is saying. 
  • Encourage the student to continue by asking clarifying questions, such as: "can you tell me more about that?"
  • Listen for feelings as well as facts. Watch for nonverbal clues and body language.
  • Reflect back to the student by paraphrasing what they have said and the feeling behind it, in order to ensure understanding of the students' thoughts and emotions.


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